State education budget, maintenance problems, sales tax hike vote and more

Jim Booth

State education budget: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a nearly $91 billion state budget that includes $21.8 billion for K-12 schools, which is an increase of spending by $242 per student to a total of $7,672. He vetoed $131.3 million in programs and projects. News Service of Florida. GateHouse. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Among the items vetoed from the budget are $2 million to the Hernando County School District for a vocational program and school hardening, $100,000 for Miami’s New World School for the Arts, $500,000 for Lake Wales charter schools to help replace the administration building at Bok Academy charter school that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017, and $88,000 for a Volusia County School District STEM in Elementary Schools program. Here’s a complete list of the projects that were vetoed. News Service of Florida. The new law also authorizes a review of the state’s K-12 education funding formula. News Service of Florida.

School maintenance: Two members of the Palm Beach County School Board are criticizing district officials for the condition of Pahokee Jr./Sr. High School. “I was shocked at the significant deficiencies that I observed in the condition of the school facilities,” wrote school board chair Frank Barbieri in a report prepared for this week’s school board meeting. “Those children out there don’t deserve the way that school is.” He didn’t detail the problems, but school officials who accompanied him said moldy classrooms, improperly functioning doors and windows and dirty walls were among the concerns. Palm Beach Post. In the 12 months between April 2018 and March 2019, air-conditioning problems were reported in thousands of Duval County classrooms as well as main offices, media centers, whole buildings or blocks of rooms. The district paid more than $9 million for the A/C repairs and maintenance in that time, according to district records. Florida Times-Union.

Sales tax questions: With the Jacksonville City Council delaying consideration of the Duval County School District’s request for a sales tax referendum, the city attorney’s opinion that the decision to put the measure on the ballot belongs to the Jacksonville City Council is under increasing attack. School officials and several of the 19 city council members question the city attorney’s legal opinion, but no one has yet asked a judge or the Florida attorney general to review it. Florida Times-Union. More than a year after Manatee County voters approved an increase in property taxes to benefit schools, no plan for the money has been finalized by the district and there’s a difference of opinion between district officials and state on how the money may be spent. Bradenton Herald.

Contract negotiations: The Brevard County School Board is expected to settle the contract impasse between the district and the teachers union at today’s meeting. With no progress made for months, the issue was taken to a special magistrate. He sided with the teachers’ position that the district should dip into its reserves for higher raises, but Superintendent Mark Mullins rejected the recommendation, leaving it for the school board to settle. Space Coast Daily. Florida Today.

Turnaround schools: Fourteen struggling Polk County schools are qualified to receive financial help from the state under the turnaround program. Patricia Barnes, the district’s regional assistant superintendent, says the schools will share $5 million for specialized teacher and staff training, a review of teaching methods and test data, implementation of a character development program for students and behavioral intervention. The schools qualified by already being in a district-managed turnaround plan, by having three consecutive state grades below C, or having improved to a C or higher and gotten out of turnaround status. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter school may reopen: An Osceola County aviation charter school that closed in December may be given a second chance by the Osceola County School Board. The school district closed the Florida Aviation Academy after faculty members walked off the job and left it with no certified teachers. FAA’s parent company, Trade Logistics Aviation Academy Inc., appealed the district’s decision, and an agreement between it and the district to reopen the school in the fall will be considered by the board. Osceola News-Gazette.

New school site: The St. Johns County School District has a tentative agreement to spend $7 million on 68 acres of land in the World Golf Village area for a new high school. The school would provide enrollment relief for Nease and Bartram Trail high schools. The school board is expected to consider the proposal at its July 23 meeting. St. Augustine Record.

Grading formula questions: Volusia County school officials are struggling to fix a final grading formula that could be putting their students at a disadvantage for college admission and scholarships. The formula requires districts to include end-of-course exams in five core classes as 30 percent of students’ final grades. For the other 70 percent, Volusia uses students’ grades from every quarter. Most districts use grades from every semester, which are compiled from each quarter and rounded, which can work in students’ favor. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

District’s vaping epidemic: The number of tobacco-related offenses at schools in Collier and Lee counties is up by about 300 percent, and officials and sheriffs in both counties attribute the change to the “epidemic” of vaping. “This is a new trend and we just don’t know years down the road the consequences from these students nationwide putting all this nicotine in their body in high doses,” says Collier County School District spokesman Chad Oliver. Naples Daily News.

Student code of conduct: Dozens of revisions to the Duval County School District code of student conduct will be considered by the school board this week. Among them are the addition of vaping products and the sharing of them to the list of punishable offenses, expanding the ban on the types of technologies used to record fights, broadening jurisdiction of the code to the district’s 5,000-plus school bus stops and putting the unwanted cutting of another student’s hair under the harassment section. WJXT.

Teacher shortage: St. Johns County school officials have managed to fill 159 open teaching positions, but still have 84 open. “We have a high need for science and math teachers,” says Cathy Hutchins, associate superintendent of human resources. “Those jobs keep on popping up on principals’ list of needs.” St. Augustine Record.

Personnel moves: Tom Russell, who was fired in May as superintendent of the Volusia County School District, is the new principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Annetha Jones, accused of creating a “negative climate and hostile environment” as principal at Titusville High School, has retired. Florida Today.

Curriculum criticized: Curriculum materials used by schools in Martin and St. Lucie counties are being criticized as racist and ethnically biased. The materials, from Studies Weekly in Utah, are also inaccurate and age-inappropriate, according to an investigation by Education Week. Both counties use the materials from the company for elementary school social studies. TCPalm.

New district website: The Lake County School District’s new website was unveiled last week. Officials say it offers greater technical support and is also more user-friendly for people with disabilities. Daily Commercial.

School fieldhouse fire: Much of the equipment used by the football team at Edison Senior High School in Miami was destroyed by a fire in the school fieldhouse. The cause is unknown. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN.

Opinions on schools: There is widespread agreement that the Duval County School District’s facilities, among the oldest in the state, deserve to be remodeled, consolidated or replaced. So the Jacksonville City Council should allow a November referendum for a special half-cent sales tax increase for schools. Florida Times-Union. The city of Jacksonville’s lawyers have crafted a bizarre interpretation of law that swings control of the school’s request for an increase in the sales tax to the city council. Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey, Florida Times-Union. The Jacksonville Civic Council strongly supports additional funding to meet our school district’s maintenance and construction needs. But there are opportunities for improving the plan. Gary Chartrand, Florida Times-Union. If the governor and a legislative majority are so sure of their dubious premise that a teacher with a pistol can repel the next lunatic killer roaming the schoolhouse with body armor, an AR-15 and a backpack full of high capacity magazines, why not expand such splendid logic to other public servants? Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel. On the issue of teacher raises in Brevard County, district and union officials both make good points. So how does the school district pay teachers as best as it can while being fiscally responsible? Timothy Walters, Florida Today. Florida Sen. Janet Cruz is working for clean water in drinking fountains in schools because your Legislature wouldn’t. Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times. Jeb Bush is correct when he says that public education in Florida was in a bad place when he pushed an education reform plan 20 years ago. And where are we now? Still below average on almost every measure, including funding. Sally Butzin, Tallahassee Democrat. Perhaps it’s time the Sarasota County School Board consider changing the “cartoonish” Native American mascot at Venice High School. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Success for Volusia and Flagler schools starts with better attendance records by students. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Our students deserve the maximum level of protection that we can provide them. With the proper training, school teachers and other employees, coupled with school resource officers, provide strength in numbers and a faster response time and opportunity for immediate action. State Rep. Spencer Roach, Fort Myers News-Press. Can dance be used to invite K-12 students into the study of physics if they might not have been willing to study the subject otherwise? Teachers from Bay and Walton Counties are giving it a try. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The Manatee County School District is delivering on career preparation for students with its emphasis on a STEM curriculum. Sharon Hillstrom, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Most Bay County School District students will receive free breakfasts and lunches during the next school year through a federal program, school officials announce. Panama City News Herald. High school students get training to build a 3D-printed prosthetic leg for a local resident at the University of North Florida’s Hacking Medicine STEM Camp. WTLV. The valedictorians and salutatorians of Polk County high schools are honored. Lakeland Ledger. Indian River County middle school students get hands-on science lessons through the Science Institute of Discovery summer camp of the Gifford Youth Achievement Center. TCPalm. Soar in 4, a program to help preschoolers prepare for kindergarten, is expanding to two more Manatee County elementary schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Malachi Richards, a recent graduate from Rickards High School in Tallahassee, wins Florida’s Fifth Congressional District Art Competition with his self-portrait and will visit the U.S. Capitol on June 24 with other district winners. Tallahassee Democrat.

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