Education budget details, superintendents, apology for pastor, contracts and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Details in DeSantis plan: Gov. Ron DeSantis has released more details about his education budget proposal in draft bills. The increase in starting salaries for teachers to $47,500 would apply only to fulltime K-12 classroom teachers, which leaves out other educators such as counselors, career specialists and preschool teachers. The reworked educator bonuses program would be based on improvement in schools’ grades, would also restrict eligibility to classroom teachers and would allow districts to withhold taxes from the bonus checks. And DeSantis’ proposal would expand the number of students qualifying for the new Family Empowerment Scholarship, which provides state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools. Children of military families would be eligible and get priority, as would children who receive free school meals. And children entering kindergarten through 2nd grade would be eligible even if they hadn’t attended a public school the previous year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer those scholarships. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Superintendent search: Chief Financial Officer Mitsi Corcoran has been named the acting superintendent for the Sarasota County School District while the board searches for an interim to run the district until it finds a permanent replacement for Todd Bowden. Bowden stepped down after his handling of a sexual harassment allegation against another administrator was criticized in a board-ordered report. Corcoran’s tenure is likely to be only until Dec. 10, when the board is expected to name an interim. Three of the five members support the appointment of Bill Vogel, the retired Seminole County superintendent. The board also voted to approve Bowden’s departure agreement, which keeps him on the payroll through 2019, gives him 20 weeks of severance pay and covers more than $65,000 for his legal fees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Superintendent’s salary: Ronald “Scott” Fritz will be paid $205,000 a year as the new Volusia County school superintendent, the school board has decided. The three-year contract includes additional sick days, bonuses based on his evaluations by the board and health insurance coverage for his two adult children, one with special needs. That’s $30,000 more than the board paid the previous superintendent, Tom Russell, who was fired last summer. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Pastor gets apology: A pastor who was removed from a recent Manatee County School Board meeting for standing in the back of the room has gotten an apology from Superintendent Cynthia Saunders. “I also want to apologize to the board for the incident that occurred during our last board meeting,” she said. “We must show compassion and common sense when instituting safety protocols.” The pastor, Arthur Huggins, says he wants disciplinary action taken against the person who ordered his removal. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County School District’s nonteaching employees would get raises of at least 3.25 percent and pay no more for health insurance premiums under an agreement reached this week between the district and union. Union members will vote on it and if approved, the deal is expected to be considered by the school board in January. Teachers and the district have yet to reach an agreement. Gradebook.

Financial oversight: The Marion County School Board is considering a policy to take away the superintendent’s ability to approve contractual services under $35,000 without board authorization. The change was prompted by Superintendent Heidi Maier’s hiring of an outside attorney when the board ordered an investigation into allegations that Maier had created a hostile workplace. Maier calls the board’s move part of an “ongoing effort to sabotage the superintendent’s constitutional duties and obligations.” Ocala Star-Banner.

School day extension: The Martin County School Board has approved a proposal to tack five extra minutes at the end of the school day for high school students. Students at the three county high schools will now have seven 50-minute periods instead of two 100-minute classes and three 50-minute classes. School officials hope the additional time will help improve learning, increase graduation rates and boost the district’s school grade from the state. TCPalm. WPTV.

Security in schools: The Imagine Weston charter school in Broward County will become the first school in south Florida to install panic alarms. The device allows a teacher or student to call for immediate help by pressing a button, which sends an alert to the school resource officer with a precise location of the emergency. The buttons are expected to be in place next month. WTVJ.

No prayers at meetings: Flagler County School Board members have voted against having a prayer or invocation open their meetings. They and school staff members were surprised in August when chair Janet McDonald invited a pastor to recite a prayer before the board meeting, kicking off a debate. Flagler Live.

Flu’s effect in schools: A spike in flu cases has been reported in Lee and Collier counties and is expected to worsen, according to health officials. The number of cases has tripled over last year, and a majority are reported in schools and day-care centers. WFTX.

Medical marijuana in schools: The Lee County School Board will consider a policy change that will allow students with prescriptions to be treated with medical marijuana on campus by a parent or caregiver who would then leave the school with the drug. Right now, the student must be checked out of school to receive treatment. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter faces closure: The Legacy Academy Charter School in Titusville could lose its contract with the Brevard County School Board after a board-ordered audit showed financial mismanagement, a failure to keep records such as teacher background checks and certifications, and a failure to meet student achievement goals as agreed in a school improvement plan filed with the district. School officials call much of the report “lies.” Florida Today.

Preschool plan denied: The Lakeland Planning and Zoning Board has rejected a proposal to turn the historic Deen House into a Montessori-style preschool. Members of the board said they might reconsider if the owners add offsite parking. Lakeland Ledger.

School may be a shelter: The Marion County School Board is considering designating Liberty Middle School in Ocala as a special-needs shelter during an emergency such as a hurricane. School officials had also been considering Forest High School, but because Liberty was built with sales tax dollars, the money from those taxes can also be used to buy the necessary $1.65 million generator. Ocala Star-Banner.

Audit prompts changes: Collier County school officials say the district has addressed several problems noted by the Florida auditor general. The audit found fault in the process for verifying school bus drivers’ licenses and driving history records, discovered that a charter school teacher was given a bonus from the state without proof of eligibility, and that district records didn’t properly document how impact fees were used. Naples Daily News.

Looking for a school: A 6-year-old girl who was arrested at her Orlando school in September for misbehaving, leading to the firing of the resource officer who arrested her and another 6-year-old, is having problems finding a new school. The girl’s grandmother wants to get her into a private school, with a Hope Scholarship for bullied students from the state, that does not have a uniformed guard. WOFL.

Progress reports: Hillsborough County school-by-school progress reports are now available online. The reports show test scores from last year, scores on preparation tests taken this year, and results from surveys taken on student and employee morale. Gradebook.

Open enrollment: Open enrollment for Polk County public schools has begun and continues through Dec. 13. Applications are approved through a lottery. Lakeland Ledger.

A grieving school: Social workers and psychologists are helping students and staff at Sunrise Elementary School cope with the death last Friday of a student. Bryce Benson, a 7-year-old 2nd-grader, was killed when he was hit by a car while he was riding his bike in the southwest part of Marion County. Ocala Star-Banner.

Educator honored: Michael Antmann, the band director at Freedom High School in Orlando, is one of 25 U.S. semifinalists for the 2020 Music Educator Award from the Recording Academy and Grammy Museum. WKMG.

Personnel moves: Benny Bolden Jr. has been named the principal at R. Frank Nims Middle School in Tallahassee. He replaces Kelvin Norton, who left in September for a medical procedure and is now principal at Second Chance at AMIKids. Tallahassee Democrat.

School board leadership: Warren Jones has been selected as the chair of the Duval County School Board, and Elizabeth Andersen was chosen as the vice chair. Florida Times-Union. Melissa Snively has been elected to chair the Hillsborough County School Board, and Steve Cona III is selected as the vice chair. Gradebook. The new chair of the Pasco County School Board is Colleen Beaudoin, and the vice chair is Allen Altman. Gradebook. Kristi Burns is elected chair of the Lake County School Board, and Bill Mathias is the new vice chair. Daily Commercial. Gina Messenger has been named chair of the Manatee County School Board, and Charlie Kennedy was elected vice chair. Bradenton Herald.

Employee arrested: A charter school classroom assistant in Okaloosa County has been arrested and charged with child abuse without great bodily harm. Deputies say Bernard Heyward, 57, grabbed a 13-year-old boy in his classroom at the Okaloosa Academy Charter School in Fort Walton Beach, then put him in what other students described as a chokehold. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Losing candidate fined: Kells Hetherington, a losing candidate in a 2018 race for an Escambia County School Board seat, has been fined $500 by the Florida Elections Commission for identifying and campaigning as a Republican in a nonpartisan race. WFSU.

Opinions on schools: We should all be thankful that Florida school districts are creating more and better educational choices. We should also be thankful that increasingly, parents have power to not be limited by them. John Legg, Florida Politics. Support staff are the backbone of schools, but are overlooked in the ongoing debate about teacher pay. Carol Gauronskas, Florida Phoenix. The Orange County School Board must rename Stonewall Jackson Middle School. Simply shortening it to Jackson Middle does nothing to correct the fact that the school is named after a secessionist and racist who killed fellow Americans based on the idea of preserving slavery. Marcos Vilar, Orlando Weekly. As students who just want to attend school safely, we are simply asking for lawmakers to implement the effective preventive measures parents, teachers and students have called for. Specifically our government needs to respond to the increasing demands for a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Jane Huang, Gainesville Sun. The arrest of Brookside Middle teacher Maxwell Guss on charges of inappropriately touching students leads to a fallout question: Were state and federal laws broken by administrators who are alleged to have not taken the actions required by the state? Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. If Black Power advocates from Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) to Ibram X. Kendi are correct in identifying racism as the systemic use of race to perpetuate social, economic, political, and education inequities, how can my fellow progressives continue to defend public education policies and practices that advantage the powerful while systemically disadvantaging low-income people of color? Doug Tuthill, redefinED.

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