Sales tax hike vote, interim superintendent, firing limits denied, COO on leave and more

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Sales tax referendum: Duval County residents are unlikely to vote on a sales tax increase to help the school district replace and repair crumbling schools before November 2020 — if they get to vote at all. The Jacksonville City Council’s finance committee approved the placement of the referendum on the ballot, but next year. The council’s rules committee then deferred any action on the school district’s request for the vote, meaning nothing is likely to get done before the new city council is seated in July. School officials say they are disappointed. “Our goal all along has been to let the people in Jacksonville decide,” said school board chair Lori Hershey. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX. Florida Politics.

Firing limits denied: A Broward County School District proposal to restrict how often the school board can put the superintendent’s job to a vote was turned down by board members. The proposal was drafted after a move to fire Superintendent Robert Runcie was defeated on March 5. Rosalind Osgood, a Runcie supporter, suggested a proposal so the board wouldn’t be voting on Runcie’s employment over and over. But a majority of the board members decided the district’s proposal was too limiting. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendent jobs: The Volusia County School Board has chosen former district administrator Tim Egnor as its interim superintendent. Egnor, 60, spent 29 years in the Volusia district as a teacher, principal and district administrator, then nine years in the St. Johns County School District before retiring. He was chosen over retired Volusia deputy superintendent Timothy Huth. Pam Stewart, former Florida education commissioner, withdrew her application after being interviewed by the board. Egnor replaces the fired Tom Russell until a permanent replacement can be hired, a process that could take up to a year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV. Flagler County School Board member Janet McDonald says it’s time to look for a new superintendent. Jim Tager, the superintendent, says he didn’t expect the issue of his contract to come up yet, since there’s still more than a year left on it. Board members are expected to discuss McDonald’s suggestion in July. Flagler Live.

District COO put on leave: Sarasota County School District chief operating officer Jeff Maultsby has been placed on paid administrative lead during an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed his former administrative assistant. The decision was announced after new, undisclosed allegations were made, according to school officials. Sproat Workplace Investigations has been hired by the school board to look into the harassment allegations against Maultsby, and the way the allegations were handled by Superintendent Todd Bowden and the human resources department. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Bright Futures: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the higher education bill that includes more stringent standards to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships. The increase in SAT and ACT test scores needed to qualify for the scholarships is expected to save the state up to $40 million in 2021, the first year the changes are in place, and up to $111 million a year in six years. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

District cell phone policy: The Sarasota County School District is banning the use of cell phones in schools this fall unless teachers in middle or high schools specifically approve their use for instructional purposes. District officials surveyed nearly 2,850 parents, teachers and administrators on this issue, and found that nearly 90 percent backed a phone ban in elementary schools, with solid majorities supporting phone use only when approved by teachers in middle and high schools. The school board tentatively approved  the policy change Tuesday, and is expected to give its final approval July 16. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Challenged books: A Marion County School District committee is recommending that nine books challenged for their content remain on library shelves in high schools. Superintendent Heidi Maier appointed the committee, which consisted of three parents, a librarian, two administrators and three high school staff members, to review the books after two groups called them obscene. Maier removed seven of the nine from middle school libraries but left them in high schools. The school board will make the final decision. Ocala Star-Banner.

Children’s well-being: Florida now ranks 37th in the United States in child well-being, according to the annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That’s a drop from 34th last year in the rankings, which are made up of 16 measures in such things as education, economics, health care and more. Florida’s best ranking was 24th in education, with gains in 3rd-grade reading results and the high school graduation rate noted. News Service of Florida. Naples Daily News. WJCT. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County School District wants to raise pay for teachers by having fewer of them and increasing their workloads. Giving teachers six classes a day instead of the current five could reduce the teaching staff by 200, with the reduction made by attrition instead of layoffs, and the $15.6 million in savings could help provide raises of up to 12 percent over the next two years. Union officials say they need more details about the plan. Gradebook. The Charlotte County School Board approves 6 percent raises for all district employees, and beginning teachers will now start at $45,000 a year. Superintendent Steve Dionisio also gets the raise, which boosts his salary by $13,000. Charlotte Sun.

District’s cutbacks: The financially strapped Madison County School District will have 17 fewer teachers when schools resume in the fall, the school board has decided. In February, the district had proposed cutting 35 teachers. WCTV.

Security in schools: A K9 trained to sniff out explosives has been added to security in Flagler County schools. The dog, named Jax, has been assigned to Jason Williams, one of the two school resource officers at Flagler Palm Coast High School. WJAX. Madison County School Board members approve the district’s participation in the state’s guardian program, but say none of the employees who volunteer to be armed will be teachers. WCTV.

Charter schools: A national education think tank says a Florida Department of Education report in March that praised charter schools for their educational outcomes “reveal(s) very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools and still less about other policy questions.” The author of the National Education Policy Center white paper, Robert Bifulco, says the state report simply provides numbers without insight and “might encourage erroneous conclusions.” Gradebook. Documents show that the Walton Family Foundation, which donated $20 million for the Teach For America program that recruited and trained teachers for low-income schools, was paying $4,000 for teachers placed in public schools but $6,000 for those placed in charter schools. Duval County was one of the districts  in the program. Teach For America’s original mission was relieving teacher shortages in public schools, but the Walton family has long supported school choice and charter schools. ProPublica.

Pollution and education: A new study of public schools in Florida concludes that young students who are exposed to air pollution do worse on standardized tests and are more likely to be suspended. Researchers Claudia Persico of American University and Joanna Venator of the University of Wisconsin say 22 percent of all U.S. public schools are within a mile of sites that release toxic contaminants. They say those contaminants cause damage the brain’s neural connections in children. The Progressive Pulse.

Schools and restraints: Seventy percent of the nation’s school districts, including Miami-Dade County’s, underreport the number of times they use restraints and seclusion on students, according to a report from the congressional watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office. Half of Florida’s school districts, including Miami-Dade County, reported no incidents during the 2015-2016 school year, the report says. Education Week.

Charter may sue district: The Lake Wales Charter Schools District board has ordered its attorney to look into filing a lawsuit against the Polk County School Board. The charter school wants the district to pay for additional buildings at Lake Wales High School and also is asking for access to academic information about students who want to enroll in an International Baccalaureate program. Lakeland Ledger.

Prep school closes: The Kingdom Preparatory School in Auburndale has closed, and some Polk County parents say they are scrambling to obtain their children’s school records so they can move to other schools. The school closed temporarily in February after its pastor, Charles Aguon II, was arrested and accused of molesting a teenage student. At that time about half the students left for other schools. WFTS.

Workforce training: The Leon County School District and Tallahassee Community College reach an agreement to improve workforce education programs by avoiding duplication of courses and identifying areas of need. Tallahassee Democrat.

School transition: Hernando County school officials said they’re encouraged by the progress made in the six months since the district took over the operations of the Center for Success and Independence-Brooksville Academy, a Department of Juvenile Justice residential facility for boys in grades 6-12. It’s a school where academics are mingled with therapy and substance abuse treatment. Tampa Bay Times.

School to expand: Magnolia Montessori Academy gets the Lakeland City Commission’s approval to build a new facility and expand enrollment from 120 students to 180. City officers downplayed traffic concerns, but say they will monitor traffic and student safety in the area. Lakeland Ledger.

Personnel moves: Three Lake County principals are moving to new schools, and four assistant principals are promoted to lead elementary schools. One of those moving is the district’s principal of the year, Jacob Stein, who is going from Mount Dora Middle to Tavares High. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial. Three new principals are named at Leon County schools: Jason Koerner at Conley Elementary, Rusty Edwards at Fairview Middle and April Knight at John G. Riley Elementary. Former Fairview Middle principal Scott Hansen is also moving to the district’s student activities office. Tallahassee Democrat. Christopher Bernier, the associate superintendent for school choice for the Orange County School District, is leaving for a job as chief of staff for the Clark County (Nev.) School District. KTNV.

Teacher arrested: A Fort Pierce Central High School criminal justice teacher is arrested and accused of stealing money from her school and its students. Deputies say Sharonda Johnson, 47, took more than $3,000 from students and $512 from the school that had been collected in school fund-raisers. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: We can’t reduce the achievement disparities in public education without first reducing the political inequalities that have their basis in race and class. The empowerment strategies being advocated by today’s education choice movement are a good place to start. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. The new Florida law banning anti-Semitism in schools is considered by many Jews to be overly broad and even unconstitutional for potentially violating one’s right to freedom of speech. Howard J. Weitzner, Sun Sentinel. I do not want to see Duval County taxpayers spend approximately $20 million in annual maintenance for schools just to avoid a special election that would cost the school district roughly $1 per citizen. Duval school board member Ashley Smith Juarez, Florida Times-Union. Cortez Brown’s camp at St. Edward’s Upper School is helping an underserved community avoid the summer learning slide. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. The Marion County School Board was right to trust its band directors to care for their students during summer practices. Ocala Star-Banner.

Student enrichment: Madison Morrow, a 14-year-old student at Gulf Middle School in Pasco County, is named the state’s Region 4 youth volunteer of the year. She’s helped start a club to counter bullying, tutored students and helped in the school office. Tampa Bay Times. Central Florida author Makaila Nichols is creating a series of coloring books promoting body positivity and anti-bullying measures that will be available in Orange County schools this fall. WKMG.