Early education emphasis, suit over sales tax vote, school security funds and more

Jim Booth

Early education emphasis: The chair of the Florida House Education Committee says pre-kindergarten and early education will be priorities for the legislative session that begins Jan. 14. The state has already revised the formula for rating preschools after Gov. Ron DeSantis said too many children were not ready for kindergarten, and Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, says more will be done. She said pre-k needs to prepare children for success. “Are we doing that?” she asked at a hearing Tuesday. “That is the question that faces us today.” The system needs more money and greater participation, representatives were told, and should consider changing the timing for the testing of VPK students. Politico Florida. Gradebook.

Board, union sues city: The Duval County School Board and the district’s teachers union are suing the city of Jacksonville over the city council’s refusal to allow residents to vote on increasing the sales tax by a half-cent to raise money to replace and repair schools. The council voted 14-5 in August against the school board’s request to place the measure on a ballot. “The suit seeks to have the court declare that the city, through its city council, has an obligation to place the issue on the ballot,” said board attorney Hank Coxe. “Hopefully this can be done before the end of the year, but at the latest it should be on the ballot in November of 2020.” On Monday, a group of residents announced it was suing the city for blocking the vote. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Security in schools: A bill is filed that would allow Florida’s school districts to access unused school safety money on general security projects even if they’ve decided against participating in the school guardian program to arm teachers and staff. The sponsor, state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, notes that there is still $40 million in the program that is not being used. “That money should not sit idle while our school districts struggle to find the funding to improve their school hardening, hire more school resource officers and actively work to find innovative solutions to protect Florida’s children,” Cruz said. Florida Politics. The number of Florida students being arrested for making threats against schools is up almost 24 percent in the past two years, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. The department has launched a campaign, called “It’s No Joke,” to discourage students from making threats. News Service of Florida. TCPalm. WCJB. Florida Daily. WFSU.

Limiting school taxes for seniors: Floridians who are at least 65 years old, own a home and lived there for at least 25 years and have homestead exemptions would be protected from rising school taxes due to increasing property values under a proposal filed by state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens. His resolution would put the measure on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and a bill he also filed would detail how the older Floridians would qualify for the tax break. Florida Politics.

School bus passing crackdown: Drivers who pass stopped school buses would face a higher fine and possibly lose their licenses under a bill filed by state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor. The law already requires drivers to stop, but Hooper’s bill would increase the fine for not doing so from $100 to $200 and those who are cited for doing so more than once could lose their licenses for six months to a year. Florida Politics. WPTV.

Contract negotiations: Hopes that an accelerated negotiation schedule would lead to an early contract agreement between the Brevard County School District and its teachers union were dashed Tuesday when the union walked out of the second of three scheduled sessions. “We’re not going to waste our time at the table to get rejected,” said union president Anthony Colucci. “(This was) not a serious money offer. … We are done negotiating for this week.” The union’s proposal of $2,300 and $1,725 for highly effective and effective teachers, respectively, and a recurring $2,000 supplement for teachers beginning in their 12th year was rejected by the district. It offered a 3.5 percent raise for teachers rated highly effective on their evaluations and 2.5 percent for effective ones, plus a $550 raise for teachers hired before July 2007. Florida Today.

Pay cut for board members: School board members in Broward and Palm Beach counties are taking pay cuts this year because of a new state law that says they can’t be paid more than a first-year teacher. Broward and Palm Beach had paid board members $44,749. Now Broward board members will will have their salaries reduced by $3,500, and their peers in Palm Beach will receive $3,700 less. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendents’ evaluations: Sarasota County school Superintendent Todd Bowden is given a “highly effective” rating in his evaluation by school board members in a 3-2 vote, and will receive a bonus of $5,000 because the district met its goal of improving the English language arts scores of the district’s lowest 25 percent of test-takers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Donald Fennoy has been superintendent of the Palm Beach County School District for 18 months. Today, he gets his first review from school board members. If he’s given a rating of “highly effective,” his pay could increase up to $11,000 from the $290,000 he makes now. Palm Beach Post.

District budgets: The Alachua County School Board approves a $423 million budget that includes a property tax increase. The school tax millage rate was lowered, but taxes will still go up slightly because of higher property valuations. Gainesville Sun.

School enrollment: A charter amendment is proposed that would require Orange County to plan new schools in areas where existing schools exceed 120 percent capacity for more than two years. The proposal, made by State House District 44 candidate Lee Steinhauer, a Republican, goes before the Orange County Charter Review Commission next month. Florida Politics. The 20-day student enrollment count in Hillsborough County shows that elementary schools are now losing the most students. The district has 84,246 elementary students, which is 1,287 less than a year ago. Gradebook.

Makeup days: Duval County students missed three days of school when Hurricane Dorian threatened the state, but will only have to make up two of them. District officials say classes will now be held Oct. 21 and Jan. 17, previously scheduled as days off. WJXT.

Vaccination exemptions: More than 2 percent of the students entering Polk County kindergartens for the 2018-2019 school year didn’t receive the recommended vaccinations because their parents claimed religious exemptions, according to the Florida Department of Health in Polk County. Almost 96 percent of incoming Polk kindergartners were vaccinated, and more than 97 percent of 7th-graders were also on schedule. Both are higher than the state average. Lakeland Ledger. A bill is filed for the 2020 legislative session that would end religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations. It’s sponsored by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Lakeland Ledger.

Program misses deadline: The Able Trust, a nonprofit organization that helps disabled Floridians find jobs, missed a deadline set by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to cut ties with the the Able Charitable Foundation. Corcoran gave the trust until Sept. 1 to disassociate itself with the foundation, which he believes is misusing money. The trust has fulfilled other parts of Corcoran’s demands, and remains in operation. Florida Politics.

Superintendent search: Fifteen people want to become superintendent in Volusia County, with the application deadline still 10 days away. Among them are former Flagler County superintendent Bill Delbrugge, now the headmaster of the American International School in Egypt; Ronald Fritz, the chief of staff for the Osceola County School District; and Christopher Colwell, the former deputy superintendent in Volusia and current chair of Stetson University’s department of education. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Gym to be rebuilt: The gymnasium at Jinks Middle School in Bay County, destroyed by Hurricane Michael last year, is being rebuilt. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday, and completion is expected in less than a year. The new gym will have a seating capacity of 750 to 800 with sports courts, a weight room and locker facilities. Panama City News Herald.

Student killed in crash: Keondre Moss, a 16-year-old student at Oakleaf High School in Clay County, is identified as the person killed in a one-car crash after school Monday. Two others were seriously injured. Deputies say the car they were in could have been racing another car when the driver lost control and ran into a tree. Florida Times-Union.

Ex-band director sentenced: The former band director at Estero High School in Lee County is sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of child pornography. Warren Alan Baxter, 54, pleaded guilty in June. Fort Myers News-Press.

Unanswered questions: A student who beat up a classmate at Blake Academy in Lakeland has been suspended for 10 days. But the victim’s parents say they still have concerns that are being ignored by school officials, and they’re asking the Polk County School Board to make some policy changes in how much information about students is given to parents. The locker room attack was recorded on a cellphone. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: Orange County school leaders are finally talking about changing start times for high schools. That’s great because change is definitely needed, but the options being proposed are lousy. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Building the best education system for students across Florida will require bold vision, a financial investment, hiring the best people and demanding the highest standards. Rhea Law, Orlando Sentinel. The next Indian River County School District superintendent will have to be a superhero, because she or he will have to navigate politics, bureaucracy and factors the district can’t control, and deal with school board members who have not learned to work together effectively, respect each other and learn. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Matthew Britton, a teacher at Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, is one of 30 U.S. teachers chosen to be a World History Digital Education Fellow and will travel to the Republic of Korea next July for 10 days. Florida Times-Union. A group of central Florida students modify toy cars for children with disabilities at the University of Central Florida’s Innovative Mobility Initiative Lab. Orlando Sentinel.

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