Broward Superintendent Runcie resigning, budget ends up at $101.5B, higher education bill set and more

Runcie announces resignation: School Superintendent Robert Runcie, who was indicted on a charge of perjury last week by a statewide grand jury, agreed Tuesday to resign after a majority of school board members made it clear they didn’t want him to continue running the district. “I cannot put myself above the needs of our district,” said Runcie, who cited the ongoing blame he’s received for events leading up to the 2018 Parkland school shooting for his decision. He vowed in a video message released earlier Tuesday that he “will be vindicated.” General counsel Barbara Myrick, who was indicted for illegally disclosing grand jury proceedings, also said she will step down. Both will begin negotiating an exit settlement with board chair Rosalind Osgood. The board will meet again at 11 a.m. Thursday to discuss their departures, and the next steps for the district. The indictments came from a grand jury that was empaneled by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019 to investigate the Broward district’s handling of the 2018 Parkland school shooting and how it used state funds to improve school security. It later expanded its scope to include corruption in the district, and earlier this year issued an indictment against former chief technology officer Tony Hunter on charges of bribery and bid-rigging. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WPEC.

$101.5 billion budget: The Senate and House have agreed on a record $101.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year that is bolstered with more than $6 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus aid and includes $22.4 billion for education. Senators originally proposed a $95 billion budget, while the House started at $97 billion and Gov. DeSantis asked for $96.6 billion. This year’s budget is a little over $92 billion. The final agreement announced Tuesday includes $1,000 bonuses for public schools teachers, principals and first responders, $550 million for teacher raises, $200 million to expand school choice, a minimum hourly wage raise to $13 for state government workers, 10 percent raises for state attorneys, public defenders and district court judges, and more. The full Legislature will vote on the budget Friday, after the required 72-hour “cooling off” period. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. USA Today Network. WFLA. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix.

Higher education bill: A higher education budget was approved Tuesday by the Senate that includes in-state tuition for high-achieving out-of-state students who have a grandparent living in Florida and shielding universities from lawsuits for tuition and fees refunds for the time schools were closed because of the pandemic. H.B. 1261 would also offer tuition and fee waivers for an online course for veterans and active-duty members of the military, and a “buy one, get one” course deal for students who enroll in majors that are identified as being aligned with the state’s workforce needs. Gone is a widely criticized provision that would have changed the way Bright Futures scholarships are funded from a set percentage of tuition and fees to whatever the Legislature allocated every year. Because it was amended, the bill now goes back to the House for approval. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: The House approved school safety legislation that would put new requirements on school officials before a student is involuntarily committed for mental health evaluation under the Baker Act. The bill is now headed to Gov. DeSantis. Politico Florida. A bill that would allow churches to decide if guns can be carried on their property, even if they have schools, was approved by the Senate and now goes to the governor’s desk. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. The Senate fell one vote short of approving a bill that would have created a public records exemption for college presidential searches. A two-thirds vote is required for exemptions to the public records law, and the bill got 25 of 39 votes. Supporters said the secrecy would have improved the quality of candidates, while critics said it would allow schools to conduct a candidate search in secrecy. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. A Senate committee approved a bill to curtail use of excessive force by officers, restrict the use of chokeholds and prohibit the arrest of anyone under the age of 7 for anything other than a forcible felony. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

COVID order and guidance: Gov. DeSantis has extended the state’s coronavirus pandemic state of emergency for another 60 days. “The impact of COVID-19 poses a continuing threat to the health, safety and welfare of the state of Florida and its residents,” read the order. But it also included new language saying “as Florida continues to realize a manageable trend in COVID-19 cases … the state should prepare to resume non-emergency operations.” The order has been in effect since March 2020. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face masks outdoors as long as they’re not in a crowd of strangers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday. Associated Press. USA Today.

Around the state: Hillsborough school board members come to no conclusions on how to fix its financial crisis or build a corrective action plan for Superintendent Addison Davis, Frederick Heid has been hired as the new school superintendent in Polk County, Seminole County schools won’t continue to offer their hybrid remote learning option for the 2021-2022 school year, quarantine protocols are changing for Miami-Dade County schools, student-athletes in Orange and Volusia counties will have to undergo a heart screening before they’re allowed to participate in school sports, the Lee County School Board decides to allow Superintendent Greg Adkins to finish his term, and Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning issues a public apology for his confusing remarks on the district’s face mask policy. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Quarantine periods in the school district for students and employees who were exposed to someone with the coronavirus are now 10 days instead of two weeks. And students and staff who have been fully vaccinated for two weeks do not have to quarantine at all if they’ve been in contact with someone who tests positive. The quarantine protocols were revised on the recommendation of the district’s task force of health experts. Miami Herald. WLRN. The CEO of the private school that told its employees they couldn’t work with students if they got vaccinations is standing by her contention that the shots are an “experiment.” Leila Centner of the Centner Academy also said she did not threaten the jobs of employees who do get vaccinated, though during her video conference with employees she said, “I have to draw a line in the sand today and tell you if you want to get (shots), this is not going to be the right school for you.” WFOR. Miami’s School for Advanced Studies is rated the best public high school in Florida and the fifth-best in the country in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. Miami Herald. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: The school board made little progress Tuesday in deciding how to deal with two pressing problems: the employment status of embattled Superintendent Addison Davis and how to meet the state’s deadline of May 12 to file a recovery plan to fix its financial problems. If the district can’t lay out how it will end the fiscal year with reserves of at least 2 percent of its revenues, the state could take over its financial operations. A draft of a plan will be given to the board later this week. Meanwhile, Davis presented the board with a long list of what he plans to do to regain the trust of principals and other administrators. Board members said Davis’ proposal is too ambitious, and will schedule another meeting in early May to work on a corrective action plan for him. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. Bay News 9.

Orange, central Florida: Student-athletes in Orange and Volusia counties will be required to have an electrocardiogram before being allowed to participate in school sports. The new standard begins in the fall in Orange County, and for the 2022-2023 school year in Volusia. WKMG.

Palm Beach: More charges have been filed against former Grove Park Elementary School teacher Xavier Alexander, who was first arrested earlier this month and accused of soliciting to sexually assault a 2-year-old girl. The latest charges accuse him of molesting several children he babysat. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: School board members unanimously voted Tuesday to hire Frederick Heid as the district’s next superintendent. Heid, 50, is the superintendent at the Community Unit School District in Algonquin, Ill., and has also held jobs in Sarasota, Orange and Duval counties and with the Florida Department of Education. Heid was one of five finalists who were in Bartow last week interviewing. He will replace the retiring Jacqueline Byrd, and could begin work as soon as June 1. Lakeland Ledger. WTSP. WTVT.

Lee: School board members agreed Tuesday that retiring Superintendent Greg Adkins can finish his contract, which expires June 30, as they begin a search for a replacement. Board members said they would consider hiring an interim superintendent to run the district for six to nine months while a national search is conducted for a permanent replacement. A majority of the board agreed that a consultant should be retained to help the board through the hiring process. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: Superintendent Kurt Browning is publicly apologizing for his recent remarks about school mask mandates that caused public confusion. About three weeks ago, Browning reiterated the district’s commitment to the requirement that students and employees wear face masks in schools and on campuses. A day later he said that if Gov. DeSantis did not extend his pandemic state of emergency order, masks would become optional. Monday, the district announced the mask mandate would remain in place through the end of this school year. Tuesday, Browning acknowledged he was mistaken in tying the district’s policy to the state’s emergency order, and said the district hopes to return to normal for the 2021-2022 school year. Tampa Bay Times. Thirty national and state organizations have formed a coalition to oppose the school district’s sharing of student information with the sheriff’s department. Deputies use the information about grades, attendance and disciplinary history to compile a list of students who could “fall into a life of crime.” Tampa Bay Times.

Seminole: School board members agreed Tuesday to end the district’s hybrid remote learning option for the 2021-2022 school year. Students will have to attend classes in-person or enroll in the Seminole Virtual School, where students complete their classwork on their own schedule. WKMG. WFTV. An 8-year-old student has started a petition to make masks optional in schools. Charlie Prida has collected 400 signatures in four days, and said he started the drive because, “I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable by not wearing a mask.” WOFL.

Manatee: Neil Phillips, one of four founders of the Visible Men Academy charter school in Bradenton for boys of color, said he resigned in February as chief executive officer because of philosophical differences with the other founders. One of them, Louis Parker, has replaced Phillips. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Johns: School board members voted Tuesday to join other U.S. school districts in a class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids and the companies that distribute them. The lawsuit alleges that school districts have “suffered significant damages” because of the national opioid epidemic. WJXT.

Leon: Carmen Conner, the principal at Pineview Elementary School in Tallahassee, has been named to the county’s newly formed Children’s Services Council. She was nominated for the advisory position by school board member Darryl Jones. The CSC will receive about $8 million a year from a new property tax. Its first meeting is May 6. Tallahassee Democrat.

Martin: School board members voted unanimously to give bonuses of up to $1,000 to teachers who work during the summer school program in June. WPTV.

Indian River: The use of face masks during summer school will be optional for students, school officials have announced. Quarantine protocols are also changing. Students and staff who have been vaccinated or have had the coronavirus in the previously three months may not need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone who has tested positive. TCPalm.

Citrus: Ernie Hopper, the assistant principal at Lecanto High School, has been hired as principal of the Academy of Environmental Science charter school in Crystal River. He replaces Zachary Leonard, who resigned in January while he was under investigation for conduct and policy violations. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: Greg Schwartz, the principal at South Daytona Elementary in Volusia County, has been hired as the principal at Flagler-Palm Coast High School. He replaces Tom Russell, who died last year after contracting the coronavirus. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Seminole State College is offering two free classes to 100 high school graduates from the class of 2020. The Bridge the Gap summer program is designed to help students get started in higher education. WKMG.

Around the nation: President Joe Biden is expected to call for free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children during a speech to Congress today. The initiative is part of his $200 billion American Families Plan, and would save the families of 5 million children an average of $13,000 a year. Washington Post. Scripps National.

Education podcasts: Rabbi Moshe Matz, the executive director of the Orthodox Jewish advocacy organization Agudath Israel of Florida, talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about educational choice, the school choice bill that was just approved by the Legislature, the role choice plays in the Orthodox Jewish community and how it protects its culture, and more. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: Is hybrid home-schooling the future of education? Rick Hess, Education Week.

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