Schools bill appeal heard, Bright Futures savings, facilities plan changes and more

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H.B. 7069 legal challenge: Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal hears arguments over the constitutionality of the 2017 education bill passed by the Legislature, which gave the state the power to create and oversee new charter schools in areas where traditional public schools have struggled. Lawyers for 10 school districts say the law creating the “Schools of Hope” violates the state constitution, which assigns those duties to local school boards. The state argues that it’s not a violation of the constitution to improve education for children who live in areas with low-performing traditional public schools. A Leon County judge sided with the state a year ago. No decision was made. News Service of Florida. Gradebook. Politico Florida. WFTS.

Bright Futures: Raising the eligibility standards for Bright Futures scholarships will save the state $195 million over three years, according to an analysis by state economists. They estimate that 6,500 fewer students will qualify when the changes become effective in the 2021-2022 school year, then 12,000 fewer in 2022-2023 and 17,000 fewer in 2023-2024. Revisions made to the program in the latest legislative session increase the scores needed on the SAT and ACT exams to qualify. Politico Florida.

Facilities plan revised: After a series of meetings to get input from residents, Duval school Superintendent Diana Greene is proposing changes to her original plan for replacing, repairing and renovating the district’s aging schools. The revised $1.9 billion plan would be paid for with a referendum that would boost the sales tax by a half-cent. It now calls for the construction of 28 schools instead of 30, building new Ribault and Raines high schools instead of consolidating them with middle schools, preserving the historic Kirby-Smith Middle and Loretto Elementary schools, keeping Chets Creek Elementary as a K-5 school and adding classrooms, making $1.08 billion in repairs, removing 438 portables, improving security and maintenance, and upgrading technology. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Dozens of members of the community urge the Jacksonville City Council to allow them to vote on the school district’s proposed sales tax hike. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. WJXT.

District’s H.R. problems: The Manatee County School District’s human resources department has not been providing the necessary services to principals and their schools, according to a report by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “There appears to be an ‘us vs. them’ mentality between the H.R. Department and the schools they serve,” it states. “It appears that schools often view H.R. as an impediment rather than a vehicle to assist them in their everyday responsibilities.” The report, commissioned by Superintendent Cynthia Saunders, was delivered to the district at the end of May. On May 28, H.R. Director Sarah Brown submitted her resignation. Bradenton Herald.

Security in schools: Under the Florida Department of Education’s interpretation of the school safety law, active-shooter or hostage drills must be held at least as often as schools conduct fire drills. Fire drills are required monthly, “so therefore active shooter drills are required at least monthly at every school,” said Lake County School Board attorney Stephen Johnson at this week’s meeting. Daily Commercial. The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office says it’s unhappy it wasn’t consulted when the school district hired Larry Grant as police chief. So Grant won’t be allowed to sit in on interviews for school resource officer openings, and will have to submit concerns about any of the officers in writing to the sheriff’s office. Citrus County Chronicle.

Mascot changes stand: The move to change mascots at six Hillsborough County schools will go ahead. After the school district announced an end to the use of Native American mascots and names at the schools, the school board received complaints from people who wanted to keep the mascots and nicknames such as Indians, Braves and Chiefs. Board members, unhappy they were not included in the process, agreed to take another look but ultimately decided not to intervene. Gradebook. WFLA. WTSP.

Graduation changes: Orange County School Board members say they want to impose a district-wide policy for graduation speakers after the University High School principal barred a valedictorian from giving her speech. The principal said the student hadn’t prerecorded the message as required. Superintendent Barbara Jenkins later apologized, and board members said once a policy is set all students will be made aware of it. Orlando Sentinel.

After the storm: The Alachua County School District launches a program to help the 101 students made homeless by storms to catch up on their schoolwork. Tutoring and credit-retrieval classes are going on for the next six weeks at Eastside High School, Westwood, Kanapaha and Lincoln middle schools. The classes are made possible with a $21,000 federal grant. Gainesville Sun. Bay County school officials meet with colleagues who have gone through crises similar to Hurricane Michael to get advice on recovering from a catastrophe. Panama City News Herald.

Teachers unions decertified: Two Florida teachers union have been decertified under a new state law that requires a union to have at least 50 percent of the potential members paying dues: The Jefferson County teachers union because it filed no paperwork after the district became a Somerset Academy charter school district, and Santa Rosa’s because it had only 644 dues-paying members out of a possible 2,055. Santa Rosa’s has resubmitted “interest” cards from more than 30 percent of the potential membership in a bid for recertification. Center Square.

New superintendent: Darryl Taylor has been appointed superintendent of the Calhoun County School District by Gov. Ron DeSantis. He replaces Ralph Yoder, who resigned in April to take a job as the executive director of the Florida Transportation Commission. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics.

Superintendent search: Hillsborough County school Superintendent Jeff Eakins just announced his intention to retire in June 2020, and already potential successors are being mentioned. School board members say they want to conduct a national search. Gradebook.

Contract approved: The St. Lucie County School Board approves a contract agreement the provides teachers pay supplements ranging from $1,000 to $7,800 a year for the next four years. The increases will be paid with a voter-approved hike in property taxes. TCPalm.

Charter schools: A new charter school, the Somerset Academy of the Arts, is beginning to transform the old Eagle Arts Academy building in Wellington. The financially struggling Eagle Arts was ordered closed last year by the Palm Beach County School Board, and the charter school company Academica, which Somerset is a part of, bought the 13-acre property for $14 million in April. Palm Beach Post. The Lake County School Board gives a charter school a one-year extension of its contract to fix its financial problems. A financial consultant says the Altoona School’s finances are better now than they were in the spring when its contract was up for renewal. Daily Commercial.

School rankings: For the first time, the school rankings by U.S. News and World Report include all schools in metro areas. They were released today. “With these new rankings, residents in more than 900 metro areas nationwide can see which local schools are succeeding at educating and graduating their students,” said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. Gradebook.

Historic schools: The Havana Northside High School in Gadsden County and Cocoa Junior High School in Brevard County have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Florida Department of State. Both had historic roles in the story of segregation in the state. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV.

District property sale: Seminole County is buying two properties from the school board for nearly $3 million. One is the Rosenwald School property, which will be turned into a community building. The school, which first opened in 1931 as a school for black students, has been closed for eight years. Orlando Sentinel.

Hazardous walking law: Hillsborough County school officials say the state needs to revise the law defining hazardous walking routes for students to schools to improve safety. Right now the law does not require sidewalks, and the state won’t pay for busing students who live closer than 2 miles to their schools. State Rep. Michael Beltran, R-Valrico, said students are walking through drainage ditches and across streets without crosswalks. WFTS.

Board member fined: Sarasota County School Board member Shirley Brown has been fined $200 by the Florida Elections Commission for using partisan identification in campaign mailers for a nonpartisan office. Brown, who is a Democrat, said she didn’t think the mailer was a violation since it didn’t mention her own affiliation. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District sued over taunts: The Pinellas County School Board and sheriff are being sued by the family of an autistic student who was taunted by a school resource officer at Osceola Middle School in 2017. Officer Ural Darling, who was fired for his actions, told the 13-year-old student that he would be handcuffed and sent to a mental hospital for the rest of his life if he threw a book again. The family alleges the boy has suffered emotional trauma, and continues to fear police officers and authority figures. Gradebook.

Lawsuits settled: The Polk County School District has agreed to settle two civil lawsuits by families whose daughters were sexually abused by a former teacher at Mulberry High School. The settlements, which total $185,000, have to be approved by the school board. The teacher, Jason Argo, had sexual relations with the girls in 2014 and 2015. He was fired and in 2017 pleaded guilty to charges of sexual battery and lewd battery on a minor. Lakeland Ledger.

Teachers fired: The Broward County School approves the firing of two teachers. Ava Williams, a 3rd-grade teacher at Watkins Elementary in Pembroke Park, was accused of choking a student. Dagoberto Magana-Velasquez, a math teacher at Miramar High, was accused of making making racially insensitive comments. Both said they will appeal to a state judge. Sun Sentinel. Broward board members reject Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation of a one-day suspension for Miramar High math teacher Karleef Jamel Kebreau, 42, for giving “full-frontal” hugs and making inappropriate comments to female students. They have asked Runcie to review the case and come back to the board with a tougher punishment. Sun Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: The expansion of charter schools and school choice in Florida has helped the state’s students to make remarkable gains in achievement – in fact, some of the biggest gains in America over the past two decades. Judith Stein, Sun Sentinel. Florida taxpayers have for years, if not decades, been spending billions of dollars for tuition at private and faith-based schools. How odd that most of these school choice programs are peachy and popular complements to public education, but a few are somehow accelerants for the apocalypse. Ron Matus, redefinED. In its rush to provide a quick fix to a problem that demands a thoughtful long-term solution, Santa Rosa County School Board leaders failed to make a convincing case as to why every new homebuyer in the county should be charged $5,000 to pay for new schools. Alton Lister, Pensacola News Journal. Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins helped stabilize the school district. Now the school board should take its time to find the best candidate to build on that record and address the district’s significant financial and academic challenges. Tampa Bay Times.

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