Education rankings, superintendent’s job, tax holiday, charter reversal and more

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Higher education ranking: For the third year in a row, U.S. News and World Report has ranked Florida’s higher education system as the best in the United States. The state was ranked 27th for its K-12 schools, and finished as the 13th best state when education was added to health care, the economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections and natural environment for an overall score. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the higher education ranking was “no surprise. Our state colleges and universities have prioritized affordability and pathways for career and life and, as a result, they are transforming our state.” Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Tallahassee Democrat. So how did Florida make it to the top of the rankings? It hinged on the statistics used to compile the rankings. Florida Phoenix.

Superintendent under fire: The Volusia County School Board votes 4-1 to begins negotiations to end the 4-plus-year tenure of Superintendent Tom Russell. Board members cited ongoing communication problems and lagging student performance, and chair Carl Persis said he just thinks it’s time for a change. Russell had no comment. The board wants the negotiations ready for a vote at its next meeting in two weeks. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Pending bills: The Legislature’s tax cut bill has been sent to Gov. DeSantis, who has until May 29 to sign it, veto it or just let it become law. The bill calls for an Aug. 2-6 back-to-school tax holiday that would eliminate the state tax on clothes costing $60 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less and personal computers costing $1,000 or less. The bill also requires school districts to share revenues from future voter-approved property tax increases with charter schools. News Service of Florida. Another bill pending before DeSantis is one that requires school districts to offer an elective financial literacy course. Florida Phoenix.

Charter denial reversed: Just days after a charter school company threatened to launch a “costly” appeal of the denial of its application, the Polk County School Board reverses itself and approves the opening of the school. BridgePrep Academy wants to open a Spanish-language immersion K-8 school in 2020. The application was denied on a 3-3 vote in April with board member Kay Fields absent. This time, Fields was at the meeting, and she made the motion to overturn the earlier vote. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd recommended the application be approved, although the district’s charter review committee voted against it. Lakeland Ledger.

School finances: The Volusia County School District is projecting a nearly $10 million deficit in its next budget, despite receiving about $13 million more from the state. The extra funds are designated for specific purposes, and also will go toward teacher raises, health insurance, electricity and to pay for an enrollment increase at Burns Science and Technology Charter School, leaving a $9.77 million shortfall in fiscal year 2019-2020. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Polk County School District figures to receive $32.4 million more from the state next year, to a total of $784.2 million, according to school officials. That boost includes new revenues and enough to cover the nearly 1,200 additional students the district expects in the fall. The district will also receive about $10 million for educator bonuses under the the Best and Brightest program. Lakeland Ledger.

School security: The Manatee County School District is receiving a $1.7 million grant to improve security at schools. District officials say they’ll put fencing at 31 elementary, middle and high schools, add cameras and secure entrances. Officials at several charter schools say they will add barriers on campus, security cameras and at one school, bullet-proof glass. The work will start in October and run through January 2021. Bradenton Herald. Manatee County school buildings have thousands of deficiencies, according to an assessment by an engineering company. The district’s 694 buildings at 58 schools need $6 million in safety and security repairs, $36 million for roofing and mechanical repairs, $14 million in plumbing repairs, $35 million in interior finishes and $3.4 million in aesthetic improvements. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student absenteeism: The Broward County School Board is considering a proposal to change a three-year-old policy that punishes students with unexcused absences. Board members heard complaints from parents that the policy hurts students academically, and say they want to change the policy to require teachers to allow students to make up missed work regardless of why they missed school. Sun Sentinel.

District under investigation: Santa Rosa County’s state attorney launches an investigation into the school district over alleged irregularities in payments to sports coaches. Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille would say only that the district is cooperating, and that the query was begun after a complaint. School officials had no comment. Pensacola News Journal.

District reconfiguration: The Flagler County School Board is considering proposals to rezone all its nine schools, send all 6th graders to middle schools, convert all elementary and middle schools into K-8 centers, or some combination of all three. If any changes are made, they would not happen for at least two years. Flagler Live.

Charter schools: The Pinellas County School Board approves one charter school application, denies another and extends the contracts of two more. The new school is Northstar Academy, which will focus on at-risk students and open next year for students in grades 7-12. Denied was the King Charter School, which wanted to be the first vegan-only school in the country, because of “weaknesses” in the application. Extended were the Plato Academy and MycroSchool Pinellas. Gradebook. The Pasco MYcroSchool, an online charter school aimed at helping potential dropouts, will close after this school year. The district had moved to close it due to poor student performance and the way it’s used public funds. Gradebook. ESJ Capital Partners has sold the Sunshine Elementary Charter School & Paragon Academy of Technology in Hollywood to the school’s operator, Sunshine Elementary Charter School, for $6.7 million. The Real Deal.

Land purchase: The Lee County School Board tentatively agrees to buy 5 acres of land in Estero for $1.5 million that sit beside 10 acres the district already owns. District officials have a plan to build K-8 school on the properties, but probably not until 2023 or 2024. Fort Myers News-Press.

School program: The Marion County School Board approves a contract with the Stirrups ’n Strides Therapeutic Riding Center to provide horse-riding for students with severe physical and mental disabilities at the Hillcrest School. The previous provider ended its affiliation with the school district earlier this year. Ocala Star-Banner.

School hardening for hurricanes: Taylor Ranch Elementary School in Venice should be hardened so it can serve as a hurricane shelter, says Sarasota County Emergency Services director Rich Collins. It’s one of several options the county has considered as an evacuation center. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher honored: Rafael Garcia, an ROTC Air Force master sergeant (retired) who is now teaching cadets at Gulf Breeze High School, is named the Santa Rosa County School District’s rookie teacher of the year. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Personnel moves: Several Lake County school administrators will soon get new titles that Superintendent Diane Kornegay says will clarify their responsibilities by “more accurately reflect(ing) the departments and the people the individuals are overseeing.” Daily Commercial.

Teacher suspended: A Duval County teacher’s teaching certificate is suspended for six months because of abuse allegations from the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Michael Paul Slowik, who was a 1st-grade teacher at Rufus E. Payne Elementary School, was also placed on a year of probation as part of the agreement with the state’s Education Practices Commission. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher gets settlement: A Lake County teacher has been awarded $15,400 for medical bills after he was injured at school when he opened a door to leave and a school deputy’s golf cart struck it. East Ridge High School teacher William Barto said the door hit him in the head, causing his injuries. A jury found Barto and the deputies were equally at fault. Daily Commercial.

Mistake’s consequences: An arrest for possession of a pellet gun on campus threatens to derail a Jupiter student’s dream of graduation after a life of poverty, homelessness and hardship. Palm Beach Post.

Student arrested: A Flagler Palm Coast High School student is arrested of making a threat to kill a teacher in racially tinged computer messages to another student. Deputies say the 16-year-old girl told them she was just joking. The students are white, and the teacher is black. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: A critic’s complaints about political “spin” by scholarship supporters weren’t helped by her torrent of exaggerations and half-truths. Jon East, Orlando Sentinel. If all the the people protesting what they see as the dismantling of public education in Florida show up at an event this week, it could become the beginning of a long-needed course correction for public education in the Sunshine State. Gil Smart, TCPalm. The new school safety education law arming teachers also contains new ways to monitor and report on “suspicious activity” in schools, an initiative that builds on a failed model from the war on terror. This approach would turn our children into potential suspects without making them any safer. Faiza Patel and Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Sun Sentinel. The removal of Indian mascot names from a half-dozen Hillsborough County school isn’t about political correctness as much as it is about respect. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. There’s a train heading down the educational track toward a place where parents control, private schools dominate and the state simply pays. Carl Ramey, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: The Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Ensemble finishes second among the nation’s best high school jazz bands in the 2019 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. Sun Sentinel. Gina Warren, an 18-year-old graduating high school senior from Ashville, Ohio, honors shooting victims from Parkland and other U.S. schools of the past 20 years by placing a QR code at the top of her cap naming them all. CNN. A panel of entrepreneurs hears pitches from middle school students during a Shark Tank-like class at Saint Joseph’s Episcopal School in Boynton Beach. Sun Sentinel. Dozens of seniors in Palm Beach and Martin counties are honored with Pathfinder Awards for their academic achievements and community involvement. Palm Beach Post. Graduates of distinction are named in Collier County. Naples Daily News. Marilyn Proctor-Givens, an art teacher at Tallahassee’s Lincoln High School, wins $8,000 worth of digital hardware and services in a grant from Google, information technology provider PCM-G and AdoptAClassroom.org. Tallahassee Democrat. Fifth-grade students at Walker Elementary who helped raise $2,000 to buy the Crestview Police Department a fourth K-9 meet the dog for the first time. Northwest Florida Daily News.