Sales tax hike request denied, charter gets reprieve, legal fees, charter debt and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Sales tax hike vote denied: The Jacksonville City Council has overwhelmingly voted to deny a request from the Duval County School Board to place a sales tax hike before voters. The council voted 14-5 to withdraw the referendum, which was intended to raise money for the district to replace and repair aging schools. But council members say this doesn’t mean the idea can’t be reworked and reconsidered. “I don’t think it means it’s the end of the road, it’s simply the next step in a conversation to get this over the mountain,” said council member Rory Diamond. “We need everyone on the same page.” The vote came after a state audit determined that the school district had met the necessary legal requirements to put the sales tax hike on the ballot, and after the district posted a timeline for the proposed work that the council had repeatedly requested. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV. WJAX. Florida Politics.

Charter gets reprieve: The Broward County School Board is giving another chance to a Plantation charter school that did not have an armed security guard in place on Monday, which is a violation of state law. During an emergency board meeting called Tuesday, officials from the Ben Gamla charter school, a Hebrew language school for about 350 K-8 students, argued that they had an agreement in place with the Plantation Police Department for a daily guard through August, but was not notified when an officer could not be at the school on Monday. Board members voted to allow the school to stay open, but will monitor its security plan. Last week, the board voted to take over the Championship Academy of Distinction at Davie after it opened the school year with no guard. Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Money for legal fights: The Florida Department of Education is asking the Legislature for $785,000 more to pay legal costs because of “the rising costs of lawsuits challenging education policies and priorities put forward by the state Legislature.” Last year the Legislature earmarked $285,000 to DOE for legal expenses. But the DOE says it needs more to defend itself in lawsuits over the Best and Brightest bonuses program, school funding, retention of 3rd-graders who don’t read at a certain level, and a law boosting charter schools. News Service of Florida. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s advocacy for charter schools and school choice worries traditional public school supporters, who contend that Corcoran recently said he “sees nothing wrong with cutting our traditional public school system by two-thirds.” WFSU.

Hearing over charter: The Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school had piled up more than $1.5 million in debts by the time it was taken over last month by the Manatee County School District, according to an accounting firm’s Aug. 23 audit of the school. The audit disclosed that teachers and vendors weren’t being paid as scheduled, teacher bonuses were withheld, the school was taking out loans with interest rates higher than 50 percent, and payments were not being made to teacher retirement accounts, an administrative judge was told at a hearing that will determine if the district acted properly in removing school principal and CEO Eddie Hundley, terminating the school’s charter and seizing it. The judge also expressed astonishment that Hundley and other school leaders could not produce school records when asked to by the district. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Security in schools: Palm Beach County school officials say they want a refund on the money they paid a private company to train more than two-dozen security guards for charter schools. The district paid Invictus Security Services almost $78,000, but Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said the training was deficient and declined to certify that the guards met state standards. This week, the sheriff’s office is retraining the guards. Palm Beach Post. Most bags and even large purses will no longer be allowed at Manatee County School District sporting events, district officials say. Any bags going into events must be clear and can’t exceed 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches. The policy was put in place due to security concerns. Bradenton Herald.

SAT adversity score dropped: College Board officials say they’re dropping a previously announced plan to add an “adversity” component to SAT scores for students who grow up in disadvantaged areas. College Board CEO David Coleman said the company struggled to incorporate all the complex information into a single score. NPR.

Lab school collaboration: The Lee County School District and Florida Gulf Coast University are collaborating to create an innovation lab school that could also double as a training site for FGCU’s College of Education program and for other Lee teachers. The school, which has no expected opening date, would follow the state’s curriculum and district standards, but would experiment with new teaching techniques and share the results with other educators. It would also have an observation room where educators and students could watch classes and discuss what they see without interrupting the class. It would be open to K-8 students, with high school students attending partner schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

Spending on schools: Per-student spending in the Volusia and Flagler school districts ranged from $6,500 at University High School in Orange City to $11,500 at McInnis Elementary in DeLeon Springs during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a Florida Department of Education report. District officials say the size of the school, the services offered and the salaries of the teachers and administrators all play a factor in the differences. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Naming a school: The Lee County School Board agrees to consider a board member’s request to name the soon-to-be-built high school in the Gateway area after civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Melisa Giovannelli’s pitch falls outside the normal process for naming a school, which traditionally gathers names suggested from a variety of sources, collects community input, then culls the list that is put before the school board for a decision. Fort Myers News-Press.

Expansion over building: While many state school districts are busy building new schools to handle enrollment growth, Hernando County school officials say they favor expanding existing schools. They say the money isn’t available for new schools, and that adding on to existing schools is more cost-effective. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent search: The Hillsborough County School District posts a survey asking members of the community to name the top 10 characteristics they’d like to see in the next superintendent. The survey is a component of the search to replace Jeff Eakins, who is retiring in 2020. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: The Pasco County School District’s career-technical education director, Keiva Wiley, has been removed and offered another job in the district. “We do not feel like that’s one of the strongest departments in our system, and we feel like it should be,” said deputy superintendent Ray Gadd. Gradebook.

Bus app put on hold: An app that would have tracked Leon County students as they got on and off school buses and provided turn-by-turn instructions to drivers has been put on hold. Instead, the district will rely on Google maps for directions and won’t track student movements. The district canceled the plans after a software breakdown led to transportation problems the first week of school. The company, EduLog, will continue to provide GPS bus-tracking services. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teachers get a break: SeaWorld Orlando says all Florida teachers will have unlimited free admission to the theme park through August 2020. Teachers may also buy up to three guest tickets for $25.99 apiece through Sept. 10. Regular admission is $84.99 a day. Orlando Sentinel.

Ex-superintendent sues district: Former Okaloosa County school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson is suing the school district to recover the legal fees she incurred while fighting her suspension by Gov. Ron DeSantis for incompetence and neglect of duty. Jackson says the district is responsible for her $282,678 legal bill because DeSantis reinstated her long enough for her to resign. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher sentenced: A former Jacksonville teacher who pleaded guilty to charges of promoting sexual performance and sending sexually explicit photos to minors is sentenced to three years in prison. Kristopher Paul Beckstrom, 43, was a Landon Middle School music teacher and former teacher of the year nominee when he was arrested last September. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Teacher’s hearing: A former Manatee County teacher is fighting for his teaching certificate at a state administrative hearing. The Florida Department of Education wants to strip Quentin Peterson of his license for having an inappropriate relationship with a student at Lincoln Memorial Middle School in 2017. Peterson was placed on leave during the investigation of the charges, and later resigned. In 2018 he was arrested for being in possession of child pornography. That trial begins next month. Bradenton Herald.

Teacher appeals for job: A Volusia County teacher who was demoted after being videotaped mowing his lawn while nude in 2017 is fighting to get his job back. Brian Wheeler was moved out of his classroom at Cypress Elementary School in Port Orange after the incident. The Florida Department of Education is investigating, and a hearing is set for October. WESH.

School threats: Collier County sheriff’s deputies say they are arresting a 16-year-old Gulf High School student for making social media threats against the school and his classmates. Naples Daily News. A Jacksonville student is arrested after making social media threats against Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts, which prompted a brief lockdown. WJXT.

Students sickened at school: Five Miami-Dade County students were hospitalized after a report of “hazardous material” at BridgePrep Academy Village Green on Tuesday morning. A hazmat team cleared the school to reopen. Officials are investigating. Miami Herald.

School bus confusion: A 5-year-old student at Sadie T. Tillis Elementary School n Jacksonville was mistakenly put on a school bus Tuesday and then dropped off a short distance away. Ikeena Walthour, who had gone to the school to pick up her son, said a friend who saw the boy get off the bus called police. School officials apologized for the mixup. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: Later start times would allow Duval’s high school students to get the sleep they need to perform well in the classroom. Florida Times-Union. The next time you talk to a state lawmaker, try thanking him or her for doing a difficult job in establishing priorities on school spending vs. other needs before you complain about how he or she is doing it. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: The Orange County School District is using students to taste-test lunches as the district tries to get them to try healthier foods. Lora Gilbert, the district’s senior director of food and nutrition services, says it doesn’t matter how healthy food is if students won’t eat it. WKMG.

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