$150 million tax cut proposal, impact of plans on teacher raises, discrimination targeted and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Proposal for tax cuts: The Florida House is proposing a tax cut package of $150 million, with much of it coming through a reduction in the communications services tax and tax-free holidays for back-to-school shopping and hurricane preparation. Other education-related components of the bill would propose larger refunds for corporations that give to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and a requirement that school districts share with charter schools any money collected when voters approve local referendums to raise money for school construction. The Senate has yet to announce its plan for tax breaks. The final version of the bill usually comes together in the final days of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end March 13. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Plans’ impact on teachers: The Senate and House plans for raising teacher pay have significant differences in money allocated — $650 million from the House and $500 million from the Senate — but also in eligibility. So what would those differences mean for teachers? Pasco County school officials have begun making salary assessments based on both plans. The district would get $16.1 million under the House plan, which would allow it to boost starting teacher pay to $46,250 and offer 3.5 percent raises to others who qualify. Overall, 4,513 teachers would get raises, but 916 would not because they’re not teachers in assigned classrooms. Under the Senate plan, the $12 million available would boost the minimum pay to $45,450 and give 1.3 percent raises to all other instructional personnel. Just 30 adult education workers would be left out. Gradebook.

Anti-discrimination move: Two Democratic state representatives from Orlando said they will try to have language inserted into the state education spending bill that prohibits private schools that accept state scholarships from discriminating against gay or transgender students. Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith have filed amendments requiring those schools to expand written policies to protect students against discrimination for “a student’s or his or her parent’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or protective hairstyle.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer several state scholarships. Orlando Sentinel.

School renovations delays: A Broward County School District inspector told the school board on Tuesday that the roof repairs and replacements being planned through the $800 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2014 may not be completed until 2032. “The fact is you’re not going to get your roofs in 2023. It’s totally unrealistic,” said M.L. Rouco, the district’s lead roofing inspector. “The people aren’t there. With luck, it will be 2032.” Work under the program has been completed at just nine of the district’s 233 planned renovations. “Disappointment is not a strong enough word for me to describe what’s been going on since the beginning of this bond,” said board member Robin Bartleman. Sun Sentinel.

College consolidation plan: A sudden House proposal this week to merge Sarasota’s New College into Florida State University and Lakeland’s Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida has drawn condemnation from legislators in both parties and officials from both schools. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said he is “100 percent against any type of merger,” and State Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, said the move was “unexpected and unnecessary.” A statement from Florida Poly said the proposal “would be a profound mistake, for our current and future students ― and for the state of Florida ― to diminish Florida Poly’s role in meeting this important state objective.” The House Education Committee will discuss the proposal today. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lakeland Ledger. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Early education proposal: Early education advocates and providers generally approve of the reforms proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying the consolidation under the Department of Education and new accreditation process make sense. But they oppose the plan to have the state grade providers on an A to F grade scale, just as K-12 schools are. “We’ve heard things from providers that it [grading] could cause parent confusion or make providers not want to participate in the program,” said Erin Smeltzer, executive director of the Association of Early Learning Coalitions. She said she expects changes in that part of the bill, and the sponsor, state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, also said she’s not finished with revisions. WFSU.

Teachers honored: Melissa Nelson, an instructional math coach and algebra teacher at Allapattah Flats K-8 School in Port St. Lucie, has been named the St. Lucie County School District’s teacher of the year. Also honored were: Donna Haynes, an executive secretary at Manatee K-8 Academy, as school-related employee of the year; Rachel Lowe, a counselor at Fairlawn Elementary, as distinguished minority educator of the year; and Samantha Bowman, a 4th grade intensive-reading and social studies teacher at West Gate K-8, as outstanding first-year teacher. TCPalm. Six Collier County teachers are winners of Golden Apple awards from the Champions for Learning education foundation. The six were chosen from a field of the top teachers at each of the district’s 52 schools. Naples Daily News.

Active-shooter drills: Two national teachers unions and the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety are calling on school districts to re-evaluate the way they are conducting active-shooter drills. In a white paper published Tuesday, that group, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association made the case for removing students from active-shooter training. Melissa Reeves, former president of the National Association of School Psychologists, said the drills can “potentially trigger either past trauma or trigger such a significant physiological reaction that it actually ends up scaring the individuals instead of better preparing them to respond in these kinds of situations.” NPR. WBNS. WPLG. Associated Press.

Fighting vaping epidemic: Leon County School Board members are considering changing the district’s approach to fight vaping among students. Instead of automatically giving out-of-school suspensions to students who are caught vaping, the district wants to offer an alternative, 10-hour cessation course out of school that would be similar to a driver improvement course. Tallahassee Democrat.

New school boundaries: New school boundaries have been proposed to relocate about 500 students from Pasco County’s Hudson Elementary School, which is scheduled to close at the end of this school year. About half that school’s students would be sent to Northwest Elementary, and the other half to Gulf Highlands. Some current Gulf Highlands students would be shifted to Fox Hollow. A community meeting to discuss the new maps is scheduled March 11, and the school board will hold a public hearing April 7. Gradebook.

School calendar: Indian River County School Board members are divided over giving students a day off on Veterans Day in the next school year. It was a holiday in November, and surveys of the community indicated support for keeping it as a day out of school. But some board members think students miss an opportunity learn the meaning of Veterans Day by being out of school. TCPalm.

Superintendent search: The 20 members of a citizens advisory committee are sending the names of nine superintendent candidates to the Flagler County School Board for further consideration. Thirty-one applicants were reviewed as potential replacements for Jim Tager, who is leaving this summer. Three of the four applicants who received the greatest support from the committee have experience with the district: Vernon Orndorff was a top assistant for former superintendent Jacob Oliva, Earl Johnson is a top assistant to Tager, and Colleen Conklin is a school board member. The fourth, Cathy Mittelstadt, is a deputy superintendent in St. Johns County. Flagler Live.

Personnel moves: Geyler Herrera Castro has been appointed as principal for the Somerset Parkland Academy K-8 charter school, which opens this fall. She is now the principal at Somerset Academy Riverside in Coral Springs. Parkland Talk.

A/C for school buses: About 100 new buses, all with air conditioning, are expected to be in place for the start of the 2020-2021 school year in the Clay County School District, according to district officials. The other 139 already have air conditioning. “We will have the newest fleet in the state of Florida,” said Superintendent Addison Davis. WJXT.

Administrator on leave: Polk County School District documents disclosed that chief academic officer Michael Akes was put on leave Jan. 14 for using “profane, abusive and intimidating language” in text messages and a phone call Jan. 10 with Stephanie Yocum, president of the teachers union. The subject was the teacher rally for more education funding scheduled Jan. 13 in Tallahassee, and the role Yocum was playing in urging Polk teachers to attend. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Employees and the law: A Palm Beach County teacher who was arrested last week and accused of injuring a 7-year-old student had been accused at least three other times of hitting, shoving or pushing students, according to school district records. Cynthia Smith, a 1st-grade teacher at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach, was investigated for other incidents between September 2014 and September 2019. In each case, investigators determined they didn’t have enough to pursue charges. Palm Beach Post. A Leon County teacher has been arrested and accused of possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia. Police said Harry Coombs, 61, a 2nd-grade teacher at Chaires Elementary School in Tallahassee, had a small bag of methamphetamine in his car when he was stopped for having an “unreadable” license tag light. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Weapons at schools: A Hillsborough County student was arrested Tuesday after deputies said they found a loaded gun and ammunition in his backpack. Authorities were tipped off by an Armwood High School teacher who noticed a marijuana smell coming from the 17-year-old. No drugs were found. Deputies said the gun belonged to the student’s parent, who did not know it had been taken. WFLA. WTSP. A 13-year-old Putnam County student was arrested after deputies said they found him with two guns and four knives in his backpack at Palatka’s Jenkins Middle School. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Police are searching for an ex-student at Astronaut High School in Titusville who reportedly drove onto the campus Tuesday and waved a weapon before driving away. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: Overall, the governor’s plan to revamp education standards is a series of commonsense moves that should give teachers more independence to help their students hit meaningful benchmarks, reduce standardized testing and make the classroom a more enriching experience. But it still needs to figure out a way to compare its students to others across the nation and the world. Tampa Bay Times. Standardized tests in schools is dumbing down American students because they do not reflect the knowledge children need to succeed. Marion Brady, Orlando Sentinel. A child’s early years will determine her or his success in school. Charna Cohn, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Rafe Cochran, a 9th-grader at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, has staged four charity golf tournaments that have helped the Food for the Poor charity build 10 homes in Haiti and three schools in Jamaica. The fifth tournament is April 18, and Rafe will dedicate the money raised to help build new classrooms at Holland High School in Trelawny, Jamaica, to ease overcrowding. Palm Beach Post.

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