Tax holiday, sales tax hike, student arrests, Epstein school ties, contract vote and more

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Back-to-school tax holiday: Florida’s annual back-to-school tax holiday begins Friday at 12:01 a.m. and continues through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6. No sales or local option taxes will be collected on clothing, shoes and some accessories selling for less than $60, select school supplies under $15 per item, and computers and other electronics except cell phones that sell for less than $1,000. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Florida Daily. WJAX. Villages Daily Sun.

Sales tax hike questions: The Jacksonville City Council has released a list of 94 questions that its members want to ask Duval County school officials about the district’s proposed half-cent sales tax increase. School board members will meet with the council in August to answer the questions, though chair Lori Hershey was critical of the list. “Every question I heard at the City Council finance meeting was a question our superintendent answered at a meeting on Friday,” she complained. “We’ve answered a lot of questions and it’s becoming quite clear that the intent to work with this board is waning.” Florida Times-Union.

Student arrest data: The Miami-Dade County School Board has agreed to more closely analyze data about students who have been arrested to determine if schools are disproportionately disciplining black students. A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida showed that while 20 percent of the students in the district are black, they account for almost 60 percent of school arrests. Board member Steve Gallon III hopes such an analysis will lead to the decriminalization of minor offenses. Miami New Times.

Epstein and high school girls: At least 15 girls from Royal Palm Beach High School were among the victims who were sexually assaulted or exploited 15 years ago by financier Jeffrey Epstein, according to police reports. Girls from Lake Worth Middle and Palm Beach Gardens High were also among the victims, police say. Epstein got a plea deal on charges of soliciting prostitution charges, but was recently rearrested after questions arose about that deal. Palm Beach Post.

Vote on contract: Teachers’ votes on the proposed contract agreement between the Orange County School Board and the school district are being counted today. More than 4,000 teachers have joined a Facebook group that is pushing for the contract to be rejected, but there are more than 14,300 teachers in the district. The proposed deal calls for raises of $500, $1,625 or $2,025, depending on evaluations, but the raises for some teachers would not cover the increases for those who get family health insurance through the district. Orlando Sentinel.

Helping the homeless: The Pinellas County School District, the city of Clearwater and the nonprofit Homeless Empowerment Program are collaborating on an innovative plan to help the homeless. The city is donating a 1.3-acre parcel to the school district, which will lease it and a vacant school property for $1 a year to the nonprofit. The nonprofit will build 39 housing units on the properties for homeless families, and turn over its adult education program to the district. The district would then train the residents to fill such entry-level jobs as driving school buses and working in cafeterias. Tampa Bay Times.

Security in schools: School officials in Alachua, Marion and Levy counties say they are confident they are not among the districts considered out of compliance with the state’s school safety laws. A statewide grand jury recently reported that several unnamed districts are failing to secure schools as required by the law, and Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach were specifically cited in testimony last week by the chairman of the state panel that investigated the shooting. Gainesville Sun.

District budgets: The Flagler County School District is proposing a budget of $196 million this year, which is about about $6.3 million more than last year’s despite the lowest school tax rate in 26 years. Flagler again will be penalized by the cost-differential formula, under which the district will get 96 cents back from every dollar it sends to the state from its property taxes. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Administrators reassigned: Three assistant principals who were removed from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings there that killed 17 and wounded 17 more have been reassigned to other schools. Denise Reed is moving to Deerfield Beach High, Winfred Porter to Boyd Anderson High and Jeff Morford to Coconut Creek High. Former Stoneman Douglas principal Ty Thompson retains his title but will work on athletics in the district office. An investigation into their actions is ongoing. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendent’s tenure: Marion County Superintendent Heidi Maier says she has decided to stay in the job until her term ends in November 2020. Previously, she offered the school board a proposal to leave next June. The district is changing over from an elected superintendent to an appointed one, and board members have told Maier she will not be a candidate for that appointment. Ocala Star-Banner.

School construction costs: This week, the Lee County School Board will consider capping construction costs at $98.2 million for the new high school being in the Gateway area of east Fort Myers. It’s expected to open in 2021. The mostly recently built comparable school, Bonita Springs High School, which opened last August, cost about $79 million. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher shortages: About 30 core teaching positions are still open in the Lee County School District, even after the district hired almost 300 new teachers. If those jobs aren’t filled when schools reopen Aug. 12, certified teachers who don’t have students assigned to them will take over until the hires can be made. Fort Myers News-Press.

Attendance targeted: Pasco County School Board members will brainstorm at this week’s meeting for ways to cut down on student absenteeism. A recent report indicated that the district’s attendance rate is about 93 percent, but board members say those numbers get worse as the school year progresses and some students fall behind. Student services director Melissa Musselwhite said the district will focus on specific students, consider their personal situations and try to find ways to re-engage them. Gradebook.

School vaccinations: The number of Manatee County students claiming religious exemptions from vaccinations has more than tripled since 2011, from 113 to 359. Vaccinations are required from kindergartners, 7th-graders and students new to the district unless an exemption is filed. Bradenton Herald. Free back-to-school vaccinations are being offered to students in the Broward, Clay, Duval, St. Johns and Nassau school districts. Sun Sentinel. WJAX.

AP courses: More than half of the high schools in Polk County are offering fewer math and science courses than they did five years ago. School board member Sarah Fortney said she is “alarmed at any high school that doesn’t offer quality courses for students to take and teachers to teach.” But Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd attributes those declines to students preferring to take dual-enrollment classes in those subjects for college credit. Lakeland Ledger.

New school opening: More than 500 students will pour into the new $28 million Barbara A. Harvey Elementary School in Parrish when classes resume Aug. 12. The school, named after a longtime teacher, educator and school official, is emphasizing families and a sense of community. Bradenton Herald.

Charter schools: The Babcock Ranch Neighborhood School more than doubled in size in the 2018-2019 school year and projects another 20 percent increase when the charter school reopens Thursday. School officials say the rapid growth contributed to the decline in the school’s grade from an A to a C, and they’ve added staff support positions to address what they called a bump in the road. Charlotte Sun.

Home-schooling option: Home-schooling is up in Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties, as well as across the state. Families say they like the flexibility home-schooling offers, as well as the control over the curriculum, the safety for their children, the educational field trips, and the time they can spend playing outside and quietly inside. Charlotte Sun.

School’s new name: The name for the Hamilton County Alternative School is being changed to Hamilton Hope Academy, the school board has decided. Board members say they wanted to take away the stigma and focus on what the students can achieve or hope to achieve. They also say they plan to start a dress code at the school. Suwannee Democrat.

After the storm: The director of facilities for the Bay County School District, Lee Walters, says the recovery from the damage to schools caused by Hurricane Michael will take multiple years, and adds that “we’re counting on FEMA to continue those reimbursements. We’re hoping we can have an available funnel of funds.” Panama City News Herald.

Personnel moves: Jeff Holland is ending his 29-year tenure at St. Augustine High School to become a dean at Pacetti Bay Middle School. Holland is a graduate of St. Augustine High who returned after college to teach and coach, and later become athletic director. St. Augustine Record.

Transfers criticized: Football coaches in Palm Beach County says Florida’s relaxed rules on athletes transferring schools has “ruined high school football in South Florida.” State law now permits students to enroll in any school that has space for them and, increasingly student-athletes are taking advantage of the rule. “It’s out of control,” says Jimmy Clark, the head coach at Suncoast High. “It’s the Wild West. I think kids need to be loyal to their schools.” Palm Beach Post.

Suit against district dismissed: A lawsuit by a Miami-Dade mother of a disabled student against the school district has been dismissed. Yelinda Morgas alleged the district violated the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to assign a fulltime paraprofessional to her disabled son. A federal judge ruled that Morgas didn’t follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act administrative process. Florida Record.

District settles suit: A lawsuit filed against the Hillsborough County School District by the former director of human resources has been settled. Stephanie Woodford, now a principal at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg, said the district defamed her when she was fired in 2017 for comments she allegedly made about colleagues. The district agreed to pay $15,000 in legal fees, and Woodford agreed to drop the suit. Gradebook.

Deal on fair tickets: The Hillsborough County School Board will consider entering into a deal with McDonald’s for student attendance to the Florida State Fair. McDonald’s would offer a $1,000 scholarship to a high school student showing good character, while the district would pass out coupons for the restaurant along with free fair tickets. Gradebook.

Opinions on schools: An Urban Institute study shows that students using Florida Tax Credit Scholarships were more likely to graduate high school and go to college than their peers from public schools. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. As a rising number of Florida students receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools, there is a growing need for increased accountability for the schools they attend. Gainesville Sun. Mainland High School’s leaders should acknowledge they made a mistake in giving 336 students fake Advance Placement tests and apologize to those students and their parents. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Diana Greene’s first year as Duval County superintendent was outstanding. Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey, Florida Times-Union. Legitimate questions about the Duval County School District’s proposed sales tax hike request must be answered before any referendum is scheduled. Jacksonville City Council member Scott Wilson, Florida Times-Union.

Student enrichment: The Bradenton-based nonprofit Hope 4 Communities is helping needy children in Manatee and Sarasota counties with school supplies, medical and dental exams, haircuts and more. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Books by St. Johns County author MJ Hayes will be translated into braille for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. St. Augustine Record. Eight girls who attend Collier County schools are being sent to the National Flight Academy for a week of instruction, courtesy of the NAACP of Collier County, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the Collier County Republican Men’s Club. Naples Daily News.

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