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Florida schools roundup: School costs, repairs, absenteeism, eclipse and more

School costs rise: Lee County school officials are asking the school board to approve an additional $13.9 million to build Bonita Springs High School. The board approved a budget of $49.9 million in April 2016, but the latest estimate of the final cost is $84.9 million. School officials blame a labor shortage, rising costs and changes to the design of the school, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018. Fort Myers News-Press.

School repairs: Marion County school officials say they will receive $164.38 million over the next five years for school repairs to their 51 schools and district offices. But the latest estimate of the cost of all the needed repairs is $530.25 million, leaving the district $365.87 million short. “Our state Legislature has dropped the ball.” says Lake Weir Middle School principal David Ellers. “They are not taking care of the kids.” Ocala Star-Banner. Sarasota County School Board members say they were taken by surprise by renovations planned for the district’s administrative offices. Superintendent Todd Bowden says the work is part of the staff reorganization he proposed in March, and well within the budget the board approved. Board member Eric Robinson says it was unclear what the board was approving. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student absenteeism: The rate of Duval County students considered chronically absent doubled during the 2015-2016 school year. The rate has usually been 6-7 percent of students who miss 21 or more days a month of school, school officials say, but rose to more than 12 percent last year. School board members were shocked by the spike, and asked interim Superintendent Paula Wright to investigate. Florida Times-Union. Chronic absenteeism is also a problem in Palm Beach County, says school board member Erika Whitfield. She says there’s a clear correlation between attending school and graduating. “If we can’t get our students to school on time or to be there, how are we ever going to teach them?” she asks. Palm Beach Post.

Eclipse schedules: School districts around the state are deciding if their students will be permitted to view the solar eclipse Monday, and if they will be, how they might do so safely. TCPalm. Northwest Florida Daily News. Citrus County ChronicleSt. Augustine Record. WUSF. WKRG. WPTV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuit, evaluations, charters and more

H.B. 7069 suit: The Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school boards vote unanimously to join other districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Broward, Lee, Bay, St. Lucie and Volusia counties also have agreed to join a common lawsuit, and another 10-12 are reportedly considering joining. The districts are unhappy that they have to share local property taxes with charter schools, but have limited authority over those schools. Some board members and board attorneys also say the law violates the state constitution’s rule limiting bills to a single subject. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. WLRN.

District ends use of VAM: The Citrus County School Board eliminates the use of the state’s value-added measure (VAM) in evaluating teachers. VAM is a complicated formula that takes into consideration students’ expected test scores vs. actual scores. Citrus is one of the first districts in the state to end the use of VAM. The district’s method will use student improvement, but also allows consideration of students who are doing well academically even if their test scores aren’t as high as the state expects. Gradebook.

Charters to Florida: The recent $33 million sale of two Florida charter schools to buyers from Oregon was the second part of a seven-school, $100 million deal, says an official from the Colliers International Education Services Group. Achikam Yogev, senior vice president of the company, says he expects more deals to follow. He says the new education law that provides money for charter schools to move into areas with persistently low-performing schools is an indication that state leaders strongly support the charter school industry, making it a solid investment. Bisnow.

Back to school: In calls and text to parents, Hillsborough County school officials are warnings that buses could be up to two and a half hours late today, the first day of the school for the district, and maybe even into next week. Gradebook. Many districts around Florida start school today or Monday. Orlando Sentinel. Fort Myers News-Press. Lakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Ocala Star-Banner. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Port St. Joe Star. WTVTWFLA. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher shortages, spending, recess and more

Teachers needed: Just days before the school year begins, school districts in west-central Florida still need hundreds of teachers. Hillsborough County has the most openings, 205. Pasco needs 128, Polk more than 110 and Sarasota, Hernando and Citrus counties are also hiring. Pinellas County has just seven jobs left to fill. “You have 67 public school districts in Florida, so we’re all competing for that same small group of students that are graduating from Florida universities and colleges,” says Teddra Porteous, assistant superintendent in Polk County. WFTS. WTSP. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Spending analysis: The Duval County School Board delays an outside audit of the district’s spending, opting first to have the board auditor and district staff do an analysis of how the district spent $21 million more than it was budgeted to last year. Two state representatives had asked for an audit, which board members rejected. Now those members are saying they will likely have an outside audit done after the spending analysis. Board chairwoman Paula Wright says the first analysis should be able to narrow the focus of the second, which should lower its cost. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: Elementary students in Pasco will get their 20 minutes of free, unstructured recess every day. The district’s new student progression plan calls for “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 so that there are at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day,” according to the plan. Decisions on how to make that happen will be made by each school’s principal. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069, ESSA, school safety, recess and more

H.B. 7069: According to recently revealed text messages, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, worked behind the scenes to try to kill H.B. 7069, the education bill that provides money for a major expansion of charter schools in Florida. The messages show that Latvala worked with Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, on a plan to derail the bill. Details of the plan were not discussed in the texts, and neither Latvala not Farmer responded to questions about it. Latvala, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, is considering running for governor in 2018. Politico Florida.

ESSA proposal: A coalition of civil rights group is asking the Florida Department of Education to give due consideration to the needs of poor, at-risk children when it submits its federal education accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In a letter, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says it’s critical that the plan uphold the spirit of the law, which pledges to provide “all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and close educational achievement gaps.” The state has to submit its plan by Sept. 18. Gradebook.

School safety: Pasco County students are now being told to fight back against violent threats at their schools, instead of simply hiding. One of the key messages of the new approach is: “It is okay to do whatever you have to do to get away from Stranger Danger.” Superintendent Kurt Browning says “the decision to defend one’s self or others is a personal decision and will never be required.” But the district wants to give students options, he says, and to empower them “not to be victims.” Gradebook.

Recess rules: After hearing complaints from parents, Pinellas County school officials say they are reconsidering their idea to count student time in math and engineering centers toward the required 20 minutes a day for recess. Shana Rafalski, the county’s executive director for elementary education, acknowledged that “doesn’t necessarily reflect the spirit of (the law). … This probably is out of context in the teaching and learning handbook, and I’ll revisit this,” she says. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Funding study, retention motion, charters and more

School funding: Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, approves a study of the school funding formula’s district cost differential (DCD). The request for the study came from Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, who contend that the DCD has cost school systems in their districts and around the state millions of dollars since it was adopted in 2004. The DCD directs extra money to districts with a higher cost of living. The study will be conducted by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability and the Office of Economic & Demographic Research. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Retention suit motion: The Florida Department of Education is asking a circuit court to dismiss a lawsuit that challenged the state’s third-grade retention law and how it was implemented by several school districts. The Florida Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case, saying the plaintiffs would have to file suits at the county level. Now the DOE says the plaintiffs didn’t exhaust their administrative options before filing the suit in Leon County, and that students who refuse to take the state’s standardized tests have no right to an option of a portfolio review. Gradebook.

Charter schools: A new state law requires local school districts to share local property taxes collected for capital improvements with charter schools. But there’s an exception that will leave a handful of charter schools without any public funds. The amount to be shared hinges on how much debt a district has. Charters in districts with a lot of debt may get no money at all, while charters in districts with little debt will. So districts with little debt and charters in districts with heavy debt are both asking for relief. Tampa Bay Times.

Cities buy their way in: Affluent cities in Miami-Dade County increasingly are starting their own charter school systems or buying seats for local students in magnet programs at other public schools. The practice can increase public school options, but some critics worry it will lead to racial and economic segregation. Steve Gallon, a member of the school board, says such proposals “could result in the creation of systems and structures that could impede such access to poor children and those of color to a world-class education based on their ZIP codes.” Miami Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069, extended days, K-12 school and more

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: The Clay County School Board delays making a decision about joining other districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Board members cite the expense and possible repercussions. Board member Betsy Condon said she worries about“biting the hand that feeds you,” and thinks there are more collaborative ways to deal with the law than suing. So far, five districts have announced their intent to sue the state. Florida Times-Union.

Extended school days: The Pasco County School District is eliminating extended-day programs for all schools that aren’t required by the state to have longer days due to low reading scores. The move will save the district about $600,000 and leave extended days in place for just four elementary schools that are among the 300 state schools with the lowest reading test scores. Gradebook. Eleven Martin County and four St. Lucie County elementary schools will start 10 minutes earlier this year to give the schools enough time to provide 20 minutes of recess daily or extra reading time to fulfill a state mandate. TCPalm.

K-12 school: The Hamilton County School Board is considering merging the county’s sole elementary school into Hamilton County High School to create a single K-12 school. Superintendent Rex Mitchell says it’s preferable to the options the state has given for the turnaround school by the state – closing the school and having a charter company take over, or sending the students to another school. If the state rejects the merger option, Mitchell says, the district will consider joining the lawsuit against the state over the new education bill, H.B. 7069. Suwannee Democrat.

Project overseer dismissed: The advisory committee chairman of the Miami-Dade School District’s $1.2 billion school improvement plan is dismissed a week after publicly questioning the goal of the project. Ronald Frazier questioned the district’s oversight in meeting requirements for the hiring of small and minority-owned businesses. He said his dismissal is “suspicious,” but district officials say Frazier’s contract had expired in March and was just discovered during a review. Miami Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, funding formula, tax holiday and more

Teacher pay: Teachers at Memorial Middle School in Orlando will be paid $20,000 more this year as the Orange County School District tries to entice top teachers to turn around the persistently low-performing school. If a state grant can’t be obtained, the district will cover the extra costs. Officials say teachers at five other struggling schools also would get the extra pay if the district gets the grant. Only teachers rated effective or highly effective are eligible for the extra pay, and they’ll have to work an extra 30 minutes a day. Orlando Sentinel. Florida ranks 43rd among states and U.S. territories in average teacher pay at $47,256, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2016. The only states with lower pay than Florida are Arkansas, Idaho, West Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, South Dakota, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Alaska is No. 1 at $74,122. Tallahassee Democrat.

Funding formula fight: Volusia County School Board chairwoman Melody Johnson makes a personal appeal to the Pasco County School Board to join the fight against the state’s district cost differential (DCD) portion of the school funding formula. She says 55 of the state’s 67 counties have lost money to the DCD, which gives urban districts more money to cover the higher costs of living. Johnson says Pasco has lost $53 million since 2003. Pasco board members asked Superintendent Kurt Browning to investigate and make a recommendation. Gradebook.

Back to school: The back-to-school sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 Friday and runs through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The National Retail Federation says the average family with children in K-12 schools spends $687 on clothes and school supplies. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State NewsLakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Keynoter. WFLA. WTSP. Florida schools open soon, and some new laws focused on school traffic are in effect. Palm Beach Post. Do school dress codes discriminate against girls? WFSU.

School branding: In an era of school choice, school branding is becoming increasingly important, say some school officials. Education Dive.

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Florida schools roundup: Tax holiday, budgets, recess, court order and more

School tax holiday: The state’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Computers and other technology equipment are back on the tax-free list after being off it last year. Sun Sentinel. Pensacola News Journal. Fort Myers News-Press. Palm Beach Post. Specifics on what is – and what isn’t – tax-free. WFLA. Florida Department of Revenue.

School budgets: The Clay County School District is considering a $386 million budget, which is about 1.8 percent higher than last year’s. The board’s final vote is Sept. 7. Florida Times-Union. School boards in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties will hold their first public hearings today on their proposed budgets. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard County might be able to pay for teacher raises with some tweaks in its $963 million budget. Meanwhile, Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says having a centralized banking account and hiring armored cars to deliver money to the bank are a “dire necessity” to fighting theft from schools. Florida Today. The Lake County School Board gives tentative approval to a $573.4 million budget, which is almost $24.5 million higher than last year’s. Daily Commercial.

School recess: So-called “recess moms” worry that the state law requiring 20 minutes of recess a day in elementary schools will be watered down by school administrators whom have been entrusted to implement the law. Specifically, they are concerned that principals will allow students to take recess indoors, and that students will continue to sit at their desks instead of playing outdoors. Gradebook.

Desegregation order: The Indian River County School District is asking a federal court to release it from parts of a 1967 desegregation order that set up plans for racially balanced schools taught by diverse staffs to create an equitable education system for minority students. The district thinks it’s made enough progress for the order to be partially lifted. But the local NAACP branch, which has criticized the board’s push to lift the order, did not join the request to the court. TCPalm.

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