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Florida schools roundup: School security plans, budget blues and more

School security: The Sarasota County School Board approves a plan to create an internal school security department over the next two years. The plan, which would cost the district $3.1 million, calls for hiring 30 officers and placing them in elementary schools for the 2018-2019 school year, and adding 26 more the following year and putting them in middle and high schools. Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes negotiating with local law enforcement agencies to provide coverage in middle and high schools for 2018-2019, which could cost as much as another $2.5 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. YourObserver.com. Both the Duval and Pasco school districts are considering plans to place safety “assistants” in elementary schools as a less-costly alternative to using sworn school resource officers. These assistants would receive less training and be paid less than SROs, and work only when schools are in session. Florida Times-UnionWJCT. WJXT. Gradebook. The Volusia County School Board is asking the county council for $2 million to help put a resource officer in every school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Putnam County School Board members delay a decision on arming school employees until May 1 to wait for a recommendation from a school advisory committee. WJXT. Students are among about 50 people protesting against Brevard County School Board members who want to consider arming school employees. Florida Today. Broward County school officials are hosting the first of several school safety forums tonight. WLRN.

Budget problems: The Duval County School Board is facing a $62 million deficit in its $1.7 billion budget for next year, districts officials say. Last year the district dipped into its reserves to cover a $23 million deficit. Interim Superintendent Patricia Willis says overspending, higher costs for security, transportation, raises and money to charter schools are contributing to the deficit, and she’s asking department heads to look for 5 percent savings in their budgets. Florida Times-Union. Broward County school officials say they’re facing a budget deficit of nearly $15 million for the next school year, and are considering asking voters for an additional half-mill in property taxes so teachers can get raises. If approved by the school board, the tax measure would go on the November ballot. Officials estimate it would raise $93 million a year over its four-year life. Sun-Sentinel. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to trim $2.1 million from the district’s budget by eliminating non-teaching positions in administration and support services. Daily Commercial.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher protests, texting troubles and more

Teacher protests: The proliferation of teacher protests across the United States is a sign of a deepening dissatisfaction with the conditions of the educational system, such as low teacher pay, a sense of not being valued, violence in schools, budget cuts and funding inequalities, says Darleen Opfer, an education analyst at the Rand Corporation. “We’ve been seeing conditions in schools deteriorate, stagnate or increase school violence,” she says. “The conditions are widespread enough we’d consider schools being in crisis.” National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia agrees, saying, “We’ve never seen a brushfire like this.” Agence France-Presse.

Texting troubles: A series of text messages between Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson and Sheriff Tom Knight show a collaborative effort to force the school district to pay the full costs for having a school resource officer in every school. The often-profane messages from Robinson also deride Superintendent Todd Bowden and board member Shirley Brown. Robinson acknowledged the messages were “inappropriate” and reflected his frustration with the board’s unwillingness to consider cutting costs. Knight said the text messages were “bad judgment” and blamed Robinson for using him to criticize Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School security: Palm Beach County school officials say they are concerned that as the trauma of the school shooting in Parkland fades, so will the resolve of political leaders to protect schools. Palm Beach Post. Town hall meetings on gun violence and school safety are held Saturday around the state. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach PostTampa Bay Times. WJXT. Citrus County sheriff’s officials are urging the school district to reject hiring private security guards to provide school security. The school board meets Tuesday to discuss how to meet the state mandate of having a qualified armed person at every school. Citrus County Chronicle. The Monroe County School Board meets Tuesday to discuss the ballot language of a plan to increase property taxes to pay for having a resource officer in every school. Key West Citizen. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: ‘Hope’ operators, school security and more

Hope operators: Two charter school companies have been named the state’s first “Hope operators” in a unanimous vote by the Florida Board of Education. Somerset Academy, managed by Miami-based Academica, and IDEA Public Schools of Texas will now have access to low-cost loans for facilities, state grants, a streamlined application process and exemptions from some state laws if they apply to open “Schools of Hope” within five miles of persistently low-performing public schools. Somerset based its application on the work it’s done since taking over the Jefferson County School District, and IDEA puts on emphasis on college preparation. IDEA has already identified Tampa and Jacksonville as possible locations for schools. redefinED. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

School security: An increase of nearly $100 million in the state budget for school security probably isn’t enough to put an armed resource officer in every school, according to a report from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. The superintendents are asking the Florida Board of Education to support their request that they be allowed to use the $67 million that’s in the so-called guardian program to train and arm school personnel, much of which will likely go unspent because many districts oppose the idea. News Service of Florida. The Palm Beach County School District expects to receive $6.1 million from the state as part of the new law requiring resource officers in every school. District officials say that will be enough to hire 75 officers and cover every school. Palm Beach Post. Brevard County school officials expect to get $2.4 million from the state, but say the cost of putting an officer in every school will be $7.8 million. Florida Today. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, asks Attorney General Jeff Sessions to direct $75 million in the federal spending bill toward putting police officers into schools. Gradebook. School board in Martin and Leon counties vote to allow only trained law enforcement officers to carry guns in schools. TCPalm. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department is looking for 14 candidates to become school resource officers at 12 elementary schools in the unincorporated areas of the county, at a cost of $1.1 million. Sarasota Herald-TribuneBradenton Herald. School security will receive extra funding if Marion County voters renew a 1-mill property tax that was approved in 2014 to provide $15 million a year for more teachers and for art, music, physical education and vocational programs. Ocala Star-Banner.

Extension denied: Oscar Patterson Elementary School won’t get an extra year to turn around its string of failing grades, the Florida Board of Education decides. Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt appealed to the board for an extra year to get the school’s grade up to a C, so a decision on whether to close the school or turn it over to an outside operator could be delayed. Principal Darnita Rivers called the state’s decision “disappointing but not discouraging.” Panama City News Herald. WMBB. Continue Reading →

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Jacksonville School for Autism helps students adapt to outside world

Teachers and therapists at the Jacksonville School for Autism often work one-on-one with students.

Michelle Dunham was troubled as she watched her son, Nick, struggle in school.

He had autism and was grouped in a classroom with children with different learning disabilities at a public school.

Dunham described her son as a gentle giant who hovers around 6’3. But he’s also non-verbal. She felt he needed one-on-one support to succeed academically. She didn’t fault his teachers, who were doing all they could to help. But to thrive, Dunham said, he needed an intensive learning environment.

“They had no resources to support him,” she said.

She talked things over with fellow parents. They encouraged her to start a school of her own.

Dunham and her husband opened the Jacksonville School for Autism in 2005, as a nonprofit K-12 educational center for children ages 2-22 with Autism Spectrum Disorder — a neurological condition characterized by a wide range of symptoms that often include challenges with social skills, repetitive behavior, speech and communication.

In 2007, the CDC reported 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with autism. Now, 1 in 68 children get diagnosed.

Dunham views the school as one part of a growing societal recognition that, with the right support, people with autism can flourish.

She started the school with the Schuldt family, which has an autistic daughter named Sarah.

“We were two families that could not find the right environment for our children,” Dunham said. “Our kids needed to have more intensive therapeutic support. We wanted it to be an environment that was full of enrichment and resources: a safe environment for kids to learn.”

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Florida schools roundup: March, Hope operators, security, CRC and more

Student activism: Hundreds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents and teachers are traveling to Washington, D.C., for the March For Our Lives rally Saturday. Another 800 or so marches calling for stricter gun laws are planned in cities around the world, and more than a million people are expected to participate. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Other Florida students will take part in local ceremonies. Sun-SentinelOrlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Palm Beach Post. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradenton Herald. Naples Daily News. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. TCPalm. Five Stoneman Douglas students who have become national figures in the #NeverAgain movement to change gun laws make the cover of the April 2 Time magazine. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

Schools of Hope operators: Two charter school companies apply to become Florida’s first “Schools of Hope” operators. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the Texas company IDEA Public Schools were approved by the Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Education votes on their applications Tuesday. Hope operators get a streamlined process to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing schools, and access to low-cost loans for facilities and grants to pay for things such as longer school days. redefinED.

School security: The Miami-Dade County School Board is considering a pilot program giving schools the option of requiring students to wear clear backpacks. Miami Herald. Hendry County schools will require students to wear clear backpacks for the 2018-2019 school year, but Charlotte and Lee counties will not. WZVN. Charter schools are struggling to find money for school security. There’s no road map for agreements between local public districts and charters on finding guards for schools, who those armed guards will be, or who will pay for them. redefinED. The Sarasota County School approves spending more than $1 million beyond what it will receive from the state to place armed law enforcement officers in each of the district’s 21 elementary schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Monroe County School Board is considering asking voters to approve a tax increase to pay for police officers in schools. Key West Citizen. At a town meeting, Hillsborough County parents quiz school officials on what’s been done and what’s being planned to keep students safe. School officials say their plans hinge on funding. Complying with state laws will create a $16 million deficit in security costs for the district, they say. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Term limits, school authorization, security and more

Education amendments: A proposal to impose term limits on local school board members moves ahead at the Constitution Revision Commission meeting. Under the proposal sponsored by Erika Donalds, board members would be limited to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The measure now moves to another committee. If approved by the committee and then the full CRC, it would go on the November ballot and would require 60 percent support to become part of the state constitution. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Another Donalds proposal, which would allow the Legislature to authorize the establishment of alternative public schools, such as charter schools, is pushed forward by the CRC to the next committee. Right now that authorization power lies solely with local school boards. redefinED. Gradebook. Donalds withdraws her proposal for an amendment to end the election of school superintendents. Gradebook. An attempt to add gun-control measures onto existing proposals before the CRC fails on a technicality. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

School security: Gov. Rick Scott’s offer to place Florida Highway Patrol troopers at every entry point at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is accepted by Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Eight troopers will be outside the school today. Sun-Sentinel. Associated PressReutersPolitico Florida. Runcie also announces changes in safety protocols for all Broward schools, including a requirement that students use only clear backpacks that will be issued by schools. WSVN. Miami Herald. The Miami-Dade County School District plans to hire 20 armed guards and 100 unarmed ones, and tighten entry points to bolster security at schools. Miami Herald. Every elementary school in Sarasota County would have a resource officer by April 2 if a proposal from Superintendent Todd Bowden is approved by the school board today. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Lee County Sheriff’s Department is temporarily shifting 40 deputies, detectives and supervisors to the county’s schools, starting next week, until more officers can be hired. Fort Myers News-Press. The Alachua County School Board votes against training and arming school personnel through the state’s new guardian program. WJXT. Gainesville Sun. At a town hall meeting, St. Johns County parents tell school officials that they do not want to arm teachers. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: State budget signed, safety in schools and more

Scott signs budget bill: Gov. Rick Scott signs the $88.7 billion state budget, dismissing pleas from Florida’s school superintendents for a special legislative session to increase funding for schools. The budget includes new money for K-12 schools, mostly for school security and mental health counseling for students, and a boost in the amount Bright Futures scholars receive. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouseCapitolist. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says legislative leaders are considering allowing school districts that don’t want to arm school personnel to use any money left over from the marshals program to hire resource officers. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. The new funding formula takes $56 million in state money that in the past would have gone to larger school districts and is redirecting it to smaller ones. Miami-Dade, for example, will receive $7 million less. Tampa Bay Times. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, criticizes the state’s school superintendents for complaining about the state’s K-12 spending, saying those who are “grossly mismanaging their budgets” should resign. Bradenton Herald. Scott vetoed a $1 million item for Okaloosa County schools to buy buses that would help ease traffic congestion near Hurlburt Field, headquarters for the Air Force Special Operations Command. Here’s a full list of the $64 million in projects that Scott vetoed. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School shooting developments: Mental health records show that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School officials were worried about Nikolas Cruz’s fascination with guns, and banned him from practicing his shooting with the Junior RTOC or carrying a backpack on campus 18 months before the massacre that killed 17 at the school. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. The Coconut Creek police officer who arrested Cruz describes his search and his shock when he found the accused school shooter. Sun-Sentinel. More than $4 million has been raised for the victims of the Parkland shooting and their families, and the Broward Education Foundation has appointed a steering committee to determine how to distribute the money and who will receive it. Sun-Sentinel. Deputies at Stoneman Douglas High are carrying AR-15 rifles at the school, but concealing them in backpacks so as not to alarm students. Sun-Sentinel. A Lighthouse Point man becomes the first person in Florida to have his firearms and ammunition seized under the state’s new law addressing gun restrictions and school safety. Sun-Sentinel. The fiancee of a teacher killed in the shootings still struggles to comprehend what happened. Palm Beach Post. A sculptor is planning a 15-foot memorial to the shooting victims at the Parkland school. Sun-Sentinel. Five Stoneman Douglas High shooting survivors appear on 60 Minutes and give Florida lawmakers a C or C-minus grade for their response to the tragedy. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Three other survivors take their message for increasing gun regulation to the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press.

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Florida schools roundup: Budget, safety, other bills, board term limits and more

State budget: The Florida Senate and House overwhelmingly approve an $88.7 billion state budget that increases per-student spending by an average of $101.50 statewide, but is lower in some of the state’s largest districts. “How can anyone justify per-student increases of $65.06 and $52.35 for Miami-Dade and Broward, respectively?” tweeted Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Earlier Sunday, Gov. Rick Scott signed the higher education bill that permanently boosts spending for Bright Futures scholarships, and the K-12 bill that includes a new scholarship program for bullied victims. News Service of FloridaTampa Bay TimesPalm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. GateHouse. The Legislature also passed a $170 million tax cut bill that includes a three-day tax holiday on school supplies. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

School safety bill: Gov. Scott signs the $400 million school safety bill, despite being lobbied by educators who don’t like the idea of arming school personnel and NRA officials who don’t like the new restrictions on gun sales. The NRA quickly files a suit in federal court against the law, calling it a violation of the Second Amendment. News Service of FloridaAssociated PressPolitico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. redefinED. Palm Beach Post. GateHouse. Here’s what the new school safety bill does. Palm Beach Post. Stoneman Douglas students and parents had vowed that “this time would be different.” And it was. But school students say while it’s a start, it isn’t enough. Miami Herald. Some private schools are ahead of public schools on security issues. Palm Beach Post. President Trump backs away from his earlier proposals on gun restrictions and is now calling for the creation of a federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to make long-range policy suggestions. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Associated Press. No one really knows how many students bring guns to schools, because schools are lax in reporting those incidents and the information detailing it is inconsistently collected and outdated. Stateline.

Reaction to safety bill: Law enforcement and school officials say there isn’t enough money in the bill to put an armed resource officer in every school. They say $360 million is needed but the bill only provides $162 million, which means arming school personnel may be the only option for full coverage. Tallahassee Democrat. Why the state’s school superintendents opposed the bill. Washington Post. Miami-Dade school officials are working on a plan to put armed officers at every school. Miami Herald. Central Florida educators say they want police officers, not teachers or other school workers, to be armed on campuses. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Manatee County school officials join other large districts around the state in saying they’re unlikely to arm any school personnel other than resource officers under the new law. Bradenton Herald. The Citrus County School Board will be asked to place school resource officers into more schools. Several elementary schools share a deputy. Citrus County Chronicle.

School board term limits: A proposal before the Constitution Revision Commission to limit school board terms is revised. Sponsor Erika Donalds now wants to limit board members to serving eight consecutive years, starting Nov. 6, 2018. The earlier version, which had been approved by a CRC committee, would have begun with service since 2015. Gradebook. Several education issues are among the proposals CRC members will consider in its final report to the secretary of state May 10. Florida Today. Continue Reading →