Florida schools roundup: New voucher bill, arming teachers poll, teacher pay and more

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Voucher expansion: The Florida House Education Committee files a bill that would expand the use of state money to pay for scholarships so students can attend private schools. In the House’s version of a bill to cut the list of 14,000 students waiting for a tax credit scholarship, about 28,000 Florida students would be eligible for the Family Empowerment Scholarship. That’s twice as many as the Senate’s bill proposes. The House bill would also allow a families of four with incomes up to $77,250 to be eligible, which is about $10,000 higher than the threshold in the Senate’s version. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. Orlando SentinelGradebookredefinED.

Arming teachers: A new poll shows a majority of Floridians oppose the arming of teachers and other employees at schools. The Quinnipiac University survey discloses that 57 percent of Floridians oppose arming teachers and 40 percent approve. About 58 percent say stricter laws would do more to reduce gun violence in schools, while 32 percent say arming teachers would. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics.

School security: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chair of the state commission that investigated the Parkland school shooting, writes a letter to all Florida school superintendents urging them to follow the recommendation of the panel to arm teachers and other school employees. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Highway Patrol troopers are guarding some Palm Beach County schools while the district tries to hire more officers for  its own police department. Sun Sentinel. The Marion County School Board wants to put at least two armed guardians at each of the county’s 51 schools to supplement school resource officers. The guardians would not be teachers, except in special circumstances. Ocala Star-Banner. The Palm Beach County School District will appeal a judge’s ruling that it must assign officers to all its charter schools. Palm Beach Post. Monroe County School Board members are questioning how a former student could have gotten on the campus at Key West High School, stayed for some time and threatened another student with a knife before being taken into custody. Key West Citizen.

Teacher pay: Florida teachers now rank 46th nationally in average teacher pay, according to the National Education Association’s annual report. Florida’s teachers make an average of $48,168, which is $12,294 below the national average. Florida had ranked 45th, but dropped another spot in the 2017-2018 school year. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: The Brevard County teachers union lowers its salary demands as negotiations resume with the school district. The union had been asking for $3,593 raises for teachers rated “highly effective” on their evaluations and $2,694 for those rated “effective.” That’s been dropped to $2,300 and $1,725, respectively. School officials say they have to consult with the superintendent before responding. Florida Today. The Lake County School District is considering offering incentive pay to attract teachers to high-needs schools in this year’s bargaining session with the union. Daily Commercial.

Charter and security: One of Hernando County’s two charter schools could be closed this week by the school district if it doesn’t hire a fulltime school resource officer. Officials at Gulf Coast Academy say they plan to sign a contract with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office for a deputy this week to beat the deadline and comply with the state law. The state says if any school doesn’t have a deputy, the whole district is considered out of compliance. Tampa Bay Times.

Educator honored: Christopher Roberts of Bartow Middle Schools is named the Polk County School District’s principal of the year. Lakeland Ledger. Cypress Ridge Elementary School in Lake County is naming its cafeteria after Dennis Reid, who was the school’s first principal. He died in 2017. Daily Commercial.

Software problems continue: Manatee County school officials continue to have problems with the business management software, eight months after it launched well past its original go-live date and at a cost more than double the original $9.8 million budget. The ERP system affects all district operations, including payroll. School officials say they are struggling daily with critical issues, and employee training has lagged because the district has yet to establish official procedures. Bradenton Herald.

Board inquiry urged: Lee County School Board member Chris Patricca wants the board to investigate whether one of its members broke the law by releasing a letter that accuses a maintenance worker of wrongdoing. The law requires complaints against employees to remain confidential until the investigation is over. Fort Myers News-Press.

IMG director apologizes: Mark Riddell, the director of finance at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, has apologized through his attorney for his role in a national college bribery scandal. “I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions.” Riddell is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTSP.

New school names: Orange County School Board members decide on names for three new schools that are opening in August in the southwest part of the county. Castleview Elementary School is chosen for a school that’s near a road where Walt Disney World’s nightly fireworks show is visible. The others are Water Spring Elementary and Horizon West Middle. Orlando Sentinel.

School expansion: Bradenton Christian School receives a $17 million donation from the Pentecost Foundation, which it will use to build a gym and new fields for soccer, football, volleyball and baseball. The work will be done over the next two years. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School could lose funding: The troubled Barnabas Christian Academy in Port St. Lucie risks the loss of state funding for disabled and low-income students if it doesn’t turn over requested documents to the Florida Department of Education by March 21. The state is asking for employment histories, teacher qualifications, background checks and more details on recent leadership changes. TCPalm.

Charter school’s plan: The financially struggling St. Augustine Public Montessori charter school submits a correction action plan to St. Johns County school officials that includes laying off employees, reducing its rent, asking its parents for donations and getting a $60,000 loan from a member of the community. St. Augustine Record.

IB program sought: Greco Middle School in Tampa is applying for an International Baccalaureate program to help attract students who live in the school zone but attend magnet and charter schools elsewhere. Gradebook.

School dress code: Volusia County high school principals wants the school board to relax the dress code it imposed three years ago. Policing it is difficult, they say, and it’s cutting into learning time and creating tension among teachers who have different views on enforcing it. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Committee membership: The Charlotte County School Board is considering a policy that would give the board the authority to remove any member of the school district’s referendum oversight committee without cause. Charlotte Sun.

Suicide at school: Classes are canceled today at Lake Mary High School in Seminole County after a 17-year-old junior committed suicide Wednesday morning in the school’s auditorium building. A sheriff’s spokesman said the girl asked to go to the bathroom with about 10 minutes left in first period. Shortly after she left, a gunshot was heard. Grief counselors will be at the school today. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH. WFTV.

School board sued: The Okaloosa County School is being sued by the family of a 7-year-old student who says he’s been sexually bullied at Shalimar Elementary School. WEAR.

Stoneman coach resigns: Willis May, the football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the past six years, says he is resigning, citing the 2018 school shooting. “It’s been hard to come to work with everything that’s went on … I needed a change for my soul,” he says. Sun Sentinel.

Students arrested: Two Brevard County students, 13 and 14, are arrested and accused of threatening a mass shooting at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Titusville. WKMG. A 15-year-old student at Leon County High School in Tallahassee is arrested and accused of making a threat against the school. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: There is more at stake with the Hillsborough County School District considering outsourcing custodial work than just the bottom line. Not everything can be measured by a calculator and spreadsheet. School officials would be wise to keep that in mind. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. The Lakeland student’s case provided one clear lesson: no, you don’t have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school, but until we figure out how to stand for things that offer common ground to stand on, we all face losing something really valuable. Lakeland Ledger. The Florida Legislature is so eager to privatize public education that it has not established regulations that would prohibit abuses. Taxpayer money is thus diverted from public schools governed by strict regulations to those which have almost none. Eileen Roy, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Three Winter Park High School students win first place in the national C-SPAN student documentary competition. Ella Grace Rodriguez, Luke Sand and Justin Whittingham won for Comfortably Numb: Honoring America’s Right to a Free Press. Orlando Sentinel. Murals will be added to five Palm Beach County schools by artist Eduardo Mendieta as part of a federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant. Palm Beach Post. The Indian River Charter High School choir has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. TCPalm.