South Florida districts ripped for security flaws, arming teachers, grades and more

Jim Booth

Non-complying districts: Three south Florida school districts are among those considered to be out of compliance with state laws on school safety, the chairman of the state panel that investigated the 2018 Parkland school shootings told the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees on Thursday. “The [districts] that are the most problematic, where we’re seeing the most voids, as far as compliance would be in south Florida — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Broward isn’t providing consistent threat assessments of students, he said, and many charter schools in south Florida don’t have an armed guardian. One of the best counties is Escambia, Gualtieri said. It “stepped up and the superintendent there gets it,” he said. “They have implemented the right policies and procedures.” Others who testified urged the U.S. government to create a national clearinghouse of best safety practices for schools, and to withhold federal aid to districts that don’t comply with them. Sun Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. The 74. Education Week. USA Today. WLRN. Nikolas Cruz, the accused Parkland gunman, was considered such a threat that he was searched every morning for weapons, according to the deposition of a security guard who worked at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Sun Sentinel.

Security in schools: The Okeechobee County School Board has voted to allow willing teachers and other school employees to carry guns in schools. “I feel this decision is a step forward to better protect our children,” said Sheriff Noel Stephen. “We will evaluate these teachers, train these teachers and assure they are properly prepared to deal with any situation that they are confronted with.” WPTV. Marion County Superintendent Heidi Maier says monthly active-shooter training drills will continue when schools open next month. She says she believes the age-appropriate state-required drills will save lives in a school shooting. Ocala Star-Banner. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he’s sympathetic to people who want more school counselors and fewer school resource officers in schools, but that “it is not in the hands of this board, it is a legal requirement in the state of Florida in the aftermath of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.” WJCT. Broward County school bus drivers now have their own radio network that is separate from the one used by first responders, which could cut down on heavy radio traffic that has caused breakdowns of communications on the countywide system. Sun Sentinel.

School grades review: About 63 percent of the K-12 schools in Florida got an A or B grade from the state for the 2019-2019 school year, 6 percentage points higher than the previous year. One Manatee County school, Palm View Elementary, jumped all the way from a D to an A, even though 60 percent of its students couldn’t pass the state reading exam. That’s possible because the state grading formula includes achievement and student growth, and in Palm View’s case, the points for growth were larger than for achievement in the formula. Florida Phoenix.

District budgets: The Polk County School District is tentatively proposing a $1.77 billion budget for next year, which calls for a lower millage rate but about a $40 million increase in funds used for day-to-day operations. Lakeland Ledger. The Escambia County School District is proposing a $364 million budget for next year, an increase of $5 million over last year’s. Pensacola News Journal. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday on the Charlotte County School District’s proposed $318.5 million budget, which is up 13.4 percent from last year. Charlotte Sun. The Hendry County School Board is proposing to increase its property tax rate by 33 percent to raise $3.35 million for construction, maintenance and remodeling of classrooms and to buy six more school buses. A public hearing is scheduled July 30. Southwest Florida Online.

Emphasis on reading: Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins is challenging the district’s principals to treat 3rd-grade reading scores with at least the same urgency as they do graduation rates. “If you work with young children, your graduation rate is on-level 3rd-grade reading,” he told principals and senior staff at a meeting. Only 52 percent of the district’s 3rd-graders tested at grade level in reading this year, while the state average was 58 percent. And a quarter of all 3rd-graders were graded at the lowest level. Gradebook.

‘Grade 5.5’ proposal: A retired Marion County educator is urging the Marion County School Board to create a pre-6th grade for struggling students who will be attending Howard Middle School next fall. Narvella Haynes notes that a significant number of 6th-graders are coming into Howard from Oakcrest and Evergreen elementary schools, which are both in the state turnaround program. Superintendent Heidi Maier says the district is bound by state laws and its own policies, but that extra tutoring may be available from a federal grant to the Marion County Children’s Alliance. Ocala Star-Banner.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County teachers union and the school district have reached an agreement on how teacher evaluations will be handled. The issue has been a sticking point for the past year. The sides agreed that the annual contract won’t include the evaluation guidelines but it will mention them, and a working group will review the guidelines annually for potential changes that might be part of the bargaining process. The guidelines will also be given to all teachers and administrators. Gradebook.

School construction: Hillsborough County school officials have drawn up a five-year construction plan for renovating schools, replacing some and repairing others with the $120 million or so it will collect annually from a voter-approved half-cent increase in the sales tax. About half the money will go for air-conditioning repairs. Gradebook. Several construction projects are planned by the Pasco County School District to accommodate enrollment growth and ease overcrowding at schools such as Wiregrass High. Gradebook.

New principal at charter: Ronnie King has been appointed interim principal at Lincoln Memorial Academy, which was taken over this week by the Manatee County School District because of growing debt and problems with school leadership. King was principal at Lincoln Memorial Middle School from 2012-2014, and most recently was the principal at Oneco Elementary School. King says the plan for Lincoln is to keep the existing programs and limit disruptions. Bradenton Herald.

Impact of charters: Enrollment in charter schools is growing in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties, and some traditional public school advocates worry that growth is posing a threat to traditional public schools. Laura Dinehart, senior associate dean at the School of Education and Human Development at Florida International University, says, “I think (school choice) is here to stay in some form or another. But I’m hopeful that choice comes back to the public system in some sort of way.” TCPalm.

Teacher shortages: Classes begin Aug. 12 in Citrus County schools, and the district still has 40 openings for teachers. Until the district hires those teachers, substitutes will fill in at a daily rate between $111 and $137. Citrus County Chronicle.

Education podcasts: Dakeyan Graham, a music teacher at King High School in Hillsborough County and the recently chosen Florida teacher of the year, talks about why he teaches and the message he wants to spread during his year as a state ambassador to schools. Gradebook.

School board elections: At least three seats on the Miami-Dade County School Board will be held by newcomers after the 2020 election. District 9 member Lawrence Feldman, Martin Karp from District 3 and District 5’s Susie Castillo have all decided against running for re-election. Two other board members, Lubby Navarro of District 7 and Steve Gallon of District 1, will try to hold onto their seats. Miami Herald.

Back-to-school: Basic back-to-school information about registration, immunizations, bus schedules and more for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Leon. Several school supplies giveaways are scheduled in central Florida, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando. WKMG. Eight-year-old twins Lauren and Sophia Mair of Escambia County are collecting clothing for a back-to-school swap. Pensacola News Journal. A Hillsborough County teacher asked her wedding guests to donate backpacks and school supplies for students instead of gifts. WFLA. Challenges are many for parents from outside the United States who are enrolling their children in Florida schools for the fall. WMFE.

School calendars: Start and end dates, plus vacations for the 2019-2020 school year for the Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts.

School employee arrested: A Duval County School District warehouse manager has been arrested and accused of dealing in stolen property. School police say Steven Reggie Belger, 47, pawned supplies from the district’s warehouse. Belger is also president of the First Coast High School Booster Club. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: If a charter public school provides a lifeline, especially for children living in high-poverty areas, let the parents decide if it’s one they want to seize on behalf of their children. Florida Times-Union. We commend the Citrus County School District for the B grade from the state, but the good marks won’t last if the district can’t fix the issue of low teacher pay. Citrus County Chronicle. Continuing the Lincoln Memorial Academy and Eddie Hundley drama helps no one, and would prevent Lincoln from charting a new course. Leadership requires recognition of reality and a decision by Hundley to move on. Tom Tryon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota County Superintendent Todd Bowden’s recommendation of a contract extension for the chief operations officer after accusations of sexual harassment were filed against him erodes public confidence in decision-making at the highest level of the school district. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Middle school students are learning to fly drones at a summer camp at Ruben Dario Middle School in Miami. The program is a collaboration between the After School All Stars South Florida summer program and Florida Power & Light. Miami Herald.

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