State takeover of struggling schools mulled, top support employee and more

School takeover idea: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran suggested at the State Board of Education meeting Wednesday that the Legislature should give the Department of Education the authority to take over persistently struggling schools in districts that fail to comply with state law in improving them. His suggestion drew support from the board. Corcoran was irritated by Duval County Superintendent Diana Greene’s plan to turn around 21 schools. She said she was willing to work with the state but also had to take community sentiment into consideration in forming the plan. Corcoran called Duval’s actions a “travesty of justice” for children and posed this question: “At what point do you say, ‘Maybe we should put them in receivership, maybe we should have legislation that allows us to go over there and take over.’ ” Gradebook. WFSU. Politico Florida.

Support employee of year: Beth Lucas, a paraprofessional from Merritt Brown Middle School in Bay County, is named the 2019 Florida school-related employee of the year by the Florida Board of Education. Lucas works with autistic students, and was instrumental when students had to be moved to another school because of damage caused by Hurricane Michael, and when they returned to portable classrooms at Merritt Brown. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG.

Security in schools: State Board of Education member Michael Olenick says he’s against allowing teachers to carry guns in schools. “It’s just wrong,” he said. WFSU. Citrus County school officials say they expect to have an agreement by next month with the sheriff concerning resource officers for schools. The school board approved a proposal in April to keep resource officers in 22 schools and hire eight guardians to supplement them. One charter school, Academy of Environmental Science in Crystal River, will replace its resource officer with a guardian. Citrus County Chronicle. More than 60 percent of Americans favor having armed guards in schools, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports survey. That’s down from the 66 percent who supported guards in February 2018, just after the Parkland school shooting. Rasmussen Reports.

Investigation delay: A Lee County School Board member says she still plans to call for an outside investigation into $3.9 million in district spending that was called improper by the state. Melisa Giovannelli has said she was going to make that recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting, but didn’t because she received more information late Tuesday and hadn’t had time to review it. Now that she has, she wrote in an email, “I am more convinced now than ever for the need of (an) external and impartial investigation.” The state said the district improperly paid for some services with property tax money, and wants the district to resolve the dispute by the end of the month or risk having the money withheld from next year’s funds. Fort Myers News-Press.

Tax hike for schools considered: The Hernando County School Board is considering asking voters to approve a 1-mill increase in property taxes to raise about $10 million a year for four years for the district. Superintendent John Stratton says expenses are rising faster than revenues. “If we don’t raise revenue somewhere, we are cutting somewhere,” Stratton said. “And we historically … have cut and cut and cut, and we have just now as a district been able to add some things back.” If the board goes ahead with the plan, it would likely appear on the November 2020 ballot. Tampa Bay Times.

District finances: The Sarasota County School District reserves stand at 7.52 percent, school board members are told, which is just above the self-imposed 7.5 percent minimum. The state requirement is 3 percent, and several board members are in favor of moving more toward that number. Superintendent Todd Bowden also said the district is expected to use almost $6 million of its reserves, and he wants to build next year’s budget from scratch instead of from this year’s, as is typically done. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Contract negotiations: Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning says raising teacher pay is the top budget priority for the district in the 2019-2020 school year. Just two weeks ago the district and teachers agreed to a 2.7 percent raise, but board members and teachers are calling for bigger hikes next year. Browning says the extra $75 per student of discretionary funding from the state will be used for raises. Negotiations begin in June. Gradebook.

Green Ribbon schools: Two Florida schools are among the 35 schools, 14 districts and four postsecondary institutions named as Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. The MAST Academy of Miami and the FAU Lab School District in Boca Raton were selected for reducing environmental impact and utility costs, improving health and wellness and ensuring effective sustainability education. U.S. Department of Education.

Gardiner Scholarship: At least 2,000 more Florida students with disabilities will be able to attend special schools next year, a boost of about 16 percent, because of the $23 million increase in funding from the Legislature for the Gardiner Scholarship. “The Gardiner waiting list is no more,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at an appearance at the North Florida School for Special Education. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. Florida Politics. redefinED. WJCT.

School districts ranked: The Miami-Dade County School District is the eighth-best in the country, according to ratings compiled by Districts were rated on such factors as graduation rates, number of students, teacher quality, funding per student and test scores. Broward County was ranked 12th, Hillsborough 21st, Orange 23rd, Palm Beach 26th, Duval 49th and Pinellas 87th. WPLG.

School renovation: Work has begun on a $32 million overhaul of Zephyrhills High School in Pasco County. A 17-classroom addition should be completed by the time school resumes in August, and will continue with a new front entrance, added security features, upgraded technology and air-conditioning systems, and modern science labs and career-technical program classrooms. Gradebook. Workers are adding a University of South Florida campus at Parrish Community High School in Manatee County. WWSB.

Personnel moves: Craig Miller, who had been an assistant principal at Niceville High School, is named principal at Shoal River Middle School in Crestview. He replaces Gary Massey, who was named the principal at Bruner Middle School in Fort Walton Beach. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Education podcasts: State Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, talks about teacher pay, school voucher accountability, arming teachers, expanding vocational education, financial literacy for students and more. Florida Today.

Preserving historic school: Three buildings at the historic Carver High School in Delray Beach will be preserved after a lobbying effort by preservationists. The Palm Beach County School Board agreed to hold off on demolition of the three buildings, and the Delray Beach City Commission agreed to find money to salvage the buildings. Part of the school is now used as the Delray Full Service Center, which offers literacy and GED classes for adults. Sun Sentinel.

Penalty for a prank: A prank at Wekiva High School in Orange County could keep 140 seniors from participating in commencement. Eight students were arrested for the damage to the school, and students say 140 seniors have been told they won’t walk across the stage. District officials would not confirm the number. WFTV.

Post-prom party nipped: A tip from a security guard at West Boca Community High School foiled student’s plans for an elaborate party after the prom in April, according to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. A home in Palm City had been rented and stocked with alcohol, pot and even stripper poles, and three charter buses were rented to transport students who paid $80 apiece to attend. But deputies intervened and the students never got on the buses. No one was arrested. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher pleads guilty: A former Duval County teacher has pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography in 2018. Jordan Frederic Schemmel, 37, who used to work at Terry Parker High School, faces at least five years in prison. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT.

Students arrested: Two students are arrested for threatening an armed assault at Westridge Middle School in Orange County. Deputies say a 15-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl sent text messages to a teacher and another person. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis should veto the bill banning anti-Semitic speech because it supports neither Jews nor Christians. Martin Kavka, Sun Sentinel. The passage of a bill expanding career and technical training will increase the exposure of available programs to young students deciding on a career path, and will help those who find themselves leaning towards an alternative achieve success. Citrus County Chronicle.

Student enrichment: Middle school students at the Laurel Nokomis School in Sarasota County are learning how to use trauma kits to stop bleeding in an emergency until paramedics arrive. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Six Miami-Dade County students win $10,000 each for their winning environmental, health and social ideas in a Shark Tank-like competition. Miami Herald.

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