Appointed school board idea, sales tax offer ‘extortion,’ embezzlement inquiry and more

Mayor-appointed school board? The Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission, which meets every decade, will consider a proposal to have Duval County School Board members be appointed by the mayor instead of elected. A 2010 report to the commission said school districts with boards appointed by mayors performed better academically. If the change is made, Duval would be the only one of Florida’s 67 county school districts with appointed board members. The commission is expected to have its recommendations for the city council early next year. Florida Times-Union.

Proposal called ‘extortion’: A suggestion by a former Jacksonville mayoral aide that the Duval County School Board pledge $150 million for charter schools and hire him and an associate to push a referendum on a sales tax hike through the city council was called “extortion” and a “shakedown” by two public officials. School board chair Lori Hershey said, “I believe that when things are not moving forward, and there continues to be a demand for X amount of money to be set aside for charter schools, that it does begin to feel like a pay-to-play sort of situation.” State Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, called it a shakedown and an attack on the independence of the school district. District officials say they want to ask voters to approve the tax hike to raise money to replace and repair schools, but the request has been held up by the council, which says it has to approve it and decide when an election might be held. WJCT. Florida Politics. The school board has provided Jacksonville City Council members answers to 90-plus questions they submitted about the proposed sales tax increase. Florida Times-Union.

Embezzlement inquiry: The U.S. Department of Education is investigating allegations of embezzlement against a former Manatee charter school leader and the school’s chief financial officer. The department is looking into potential violations of federal law, including fraud, bribery/embezzlement, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud against former Lincoln Memorial Academy principal Eddie Hundley and the school’s chief financial officer, Cornelle Maxfield. WWSB.

Pushing for trainers: The family of a Tampa high school football player who died during a summer workout is pushing the Hillsborough County School District to have an athletic trainer at every high school. Through their attorney, Phyllis and Felix Walters also want more safety protocols in place and coaches at every practice and game. Their 14-year-old son Hezekiah died in June after conditioning drills for the Middleton High School football team. District officials transferred Middleton’s assistant principal and the football coach and also will ask for the school board for fulltime athletic trainers. Also recommended are closer reviews of student-athlete paperwork and having immersion tubs at all warm-weather workouts. Tampa Bay Times.

District budgets: Collier County School Board members approve a tentative $1.16 billion budget that includes a slight increase in the property tax rate. Naples Daily News. The Walton County School Board has approved a tentative budget of $244.4 million, which includes a slight decrease in the millage rate. DeFuniak Springs Herald. Charlotte County School Board members approve a tentative budget of $358 million, which is an increase of $24.2 million over last year’s. Charlotte Sun. The Clay County School Board tentatively approves an increase in the property tax rate. Clay Today. Manatee County School Board members voted down Scott Hopes’ suggestion that they consider lowering the voter-approved increase in property taxes and the district’s capital improvements levy. Bradenton Herald.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union is kicking off contract negotiations with the district by proposing a 23-year salary step plan that starts teachers at $40,000 a year and increases annually until teachers reach $68,000. “I think it’s got a lot of benefits in terms of meeting your needs on the front end of the scale,” says union executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins. “We absolutely need to do that to be competitive.” Representatives of the district say the proposal will be considered. Gradebook.

Contract language removed: The Okaloosa County School Board has removed language from its contract with teachers that said no disciplinary action can be taken against teachers unless they are notified within five days of a complaint made against  them. Teachers will still need to be notified of complaints within five days, but a failure to do so will no longer preclude disciplinary action. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Superintendent’s contract: The contract of Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton has been extended through 2023 by school board members after they gave her high marks on her annual evaluation. Patton makes $245,671 a year, and will receive eight more vacation days and another $150 a month for a car allowance. Naples Daily News.

Scholarship report: The Florida Department of Education’s latest evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program shows that students using the scholarships are experiencing the same annual learning gains as all students nationwide. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship program. redefinED.

Enrollment growth: As enrollment growth continues in the St. Johns County School District, so does the district’s dependence on portable classrooms. The district will add 33 more portables this year, bringing the total to 393 for the school year that begins Aug. 12. The district has been adding between 1,000 and 1,800 students a year, and now has an enrollment of 42,000 K-12 students. St. Augustine Record.

Mental health services: The Gulf County School Board approves contracts with two companies to provide mental health services for students, including locating tele-health kiosks in all schools. The district is also adding guidance counselors and social workers at all schools. Port St. Joe Star.

LGBTQ policies: Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning wants the school board to take another look at the district’s LGBTQ policy. Browning says the part of the policy that specifically instructs school officials to not tell parents about students’ decisions without the students’ permission is a concern. “We’re trying to find that balance between keeping kids safe and letting parents know,” Browning says. He says any change will be considered a procedure, not a policy that requires board approval. Gradebook.

Public comments at meetings: Sarasota County School Board attorney Art Hardy issues a legal opinion that members of the public have the right to criticize board members at public meetings. The memo was issued after a meeting this week in which board chair Jane Goodwin threatened to cut off a speaker who was criticizing the board. Hardy wrote that speakers can be cut off if they defame private individuals, become disorderly or make remarks irrelevant to the board business. But, he added, “It’s harder to defame public figures than private individuals, so I think there would be somewhat less latitude.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Superintendent search: A survey of more than 200 Hillsborough County principals and school administrators suggests they want their next superintendent to be someone who can provide leadership and make everyone in the district feel safe physically and emotionally over someone who specializes in knowledge about teaching and budgets. More than 80 percent of those surveyed listed leadership as the top quality, with safety a close second. Fewer than 50 percent thought it was essential for the superintendent to “understand pedagogical best practices.” Gradebook.

Contamination at school: Tests show some contamination of lead in a sliver of soil at Tyndall Elementary School at Tyndall Air Force Base in Bay County, but school officials called it minimal and discounted the chances of anyone being exposed to unhealthy levels of lead. Panama City News Herald.

School lunches: Trendy new items will be included on the Broward County School District lunch menus when schools resume. More vegetarian and vegan choices will be available, as well as more home-cooked meals. “What we are trying to push is more, obviously, clean label eating — so something that doesn’t have a lot of fillers in it,” said Jason Port, the district’s chef. Sun Sentinel. Monroe County school officials say they may turn to a collection agency to get parents to pay the $30,000 they owe for school lunches. Key West Citizen. Residents of Nassau County are raising money to pay off students’ lunch debts. WJAX.

Electric school buses: The West Palm Beach City Commission approves the purchases of five electric school buses that are capable of producing energy for the Florida Power & Light electric grid when not in use. The buses, which cost about $300,000 each, will be used by the city’s parks department to take students to after-school programs and camps. Palm Beach Post.

Paperless district: The Marion County School District is converting millions of pages of employee and student records from paper to digital. More than 9 million documents are now scanned, and district officials hope to complete the process to become a paperless district by 2024. Ocala Star-Banner.

Back-to-school web page: The Alachua County School District launches a page on its website with pertinent back-to-school information for parents and students. Gainesville Sun.

Bus video is a hit: Manatee County School District bus drivers have put out a music video, sung to Montell Jordan’s 1995 hit This Is How We Do It, that explains the rules for students riding buses. It’s already gotten more than 5,000 views on YouTube. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Scheduling problems: Palm Beach County school officials are still trying to finalize the high school football season schedule just two weeks before the season is supposed to begin. The problem? A lack of officials, which could push some teams to play Thursday and Saturdays instead of the usual Fridays. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Improved security in schools should be the legacy of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school shooting. Gainesville Sun. Teachers have big hearts and tiny budgets. Knocking out the supply list during tax-free week Friday through Aug. 6 is the least we can do to show our appreciation. Lynn Cristina, Tampa Bay Times. The back-to-school tax holiday is just a gimmick to let politicians crow about cutting taxes. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Many Brevard County teachers say they will vote no in a largely symbolic vote on the pay raises being imposed by the school board. Here’s why. Isadora Rangel, Florida Today.

Student enrichment: The Clay County School District says it will place “buddy benches” at all elementary schools to promote inclusion of all students. WJAX.

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