Florida Schools Roundup
Voucher effects on public schools, pension plans, panic alarm bill delayed, dual enrollment and more
Kindergarten readiness, turnaround schools, bill of rights for parents, compensating athletes and more
A day of remembrance: Friday was a day for remembering the 17 people killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, honoring them through civic activism, community service and a moment of silence, comforting their families, and marking the improvements made in school security and access to mental health services as ways to try to stop such events from happening again. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Tallahassee Democrat. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFTV. WTVJ. WFOR. Sun Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
School closings: Falling student enrollment could push the Broward County School District into closing or combining about 30 schools in the next couple of years. Most of the exodus is happening in the southern part of the county. The district has 30,000 fewer students this year than it did 15 years ago, and chief financial officer Judith Marte predicts a drop of another 4,000 next fall. Any school with an enrollment of 70 percent or less of capacity is considered underutilized, and nine schools are under 50 percent. District officials said much of the decline can be attributed to growth at charter and private schools, and changing demographics. Most of the county’s growth is coming from older adults with no school-age children. The school board will review its options at a meeting in May. Sun Sentinel.
Holocaust education: A bill requiring Florida schools and districts to educate K-12 students about the Holocaust was approved last week by the House Education Committee. The bill was prompted by a 2018 incident in Palm Beach County in which a high school principal told a parent that not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and that he couldn’t state that it was a factual event. H.B. 1213, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, requires all schools and districts to incorporate materials that they can get from the Florida Holocaust Museum or other organizations, teach students about the state’s anti-Semitism policy, and then prove to the state that they have complied with the requirements. The Senate version of the bill will be heard this week in the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Florida Politics.
Superintendent’s contract: The incoming Hillsborough County school superintendent, Addison Davis, is being offered a contract paying $310,000 a year through December 2023. Davis asked for more money and a five-year deal, but board attorney Jim Porter said “the board was not comfortable with that.” Davis will be paid about $85,000 a year more than the person he’s replacing, Jeff Eakins. Davis’ benefits will mirror those paid to Eakins, though he will get a $3,000 a month housing allowance for up to four months while he looks for a home and up to $7,000 in moving expenses. Davis would begin with the district March 2 as an administrator on assignment, working with Eakins on the transition. After spring break, Eakins would go on administrative leave until his contract expires June 30 and Davis would be acting superintendent until he officially steps into the job July 1. The board is expected to vote on the proposed contract Tuesday. Gradebook.
Contract negotiations: Sarasota County School District teachers and non-instructional employees have overwhelmingly voted to ratify a contract with the district that provides raises. Teachers rated highly effective will get 4.25 percent raises, effective teachers will get 3.25 percent more, and the minimum wage for district employees will be raised to $12 an hour. The school board is expected to approve the agreement at Tuesday’s meeting. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Polk County teachers union couldn’t get raises from the district this year, but teachers will get back some planning time and will no longer have to fill out cumbersome lesson plans. “I also want to say that we were very happy about the lesson planning language — the professional autonomy that you just gave back our folks is awesome,” said union president Stephanie Yocum. Lakeland Ledger.
Teaching issues: Hundreds of central Florida teachers, students and education activists gathered over the weekend in Orlando to call for more education funding from the state as well as higher pay for teachers and all school employees. It was considered a continuation of the rally held Jan. 13 in Tallahassee, and another one is being planned for south Florida. “If it’s really the year of the teacher, let’s hear teachers’ voices,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County teachers union. “What we need to do is lift everyone, and I’m not talking just about teachers. I’m talking about cafeteria workers, bus drivers and secretaries.” WESH. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. WMFE. School districts in central Florida are getting creative in dealing with teacher shortages. Osceola County, for instance, has brought in more than 30 foreign teachers from such places as the Philippines, Egypt and Ghana in the past year, and is offering its employees bonuses of $250 for every referral that leads to a hire. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes,” said chief human resources officer Tammy Otterson. WFTV. The teacher shortage has left Whispering Pines Elementary School in Boca Raton with 21 vacancies, and some parents are concerned about two teachers who aren’t certified in gifted education are now handling gifted classes. Boca News Now.
Charter schools: A south Florida developer has announced plans to build a K-8 charter school in Osceola County, just west of St. Cloud, for up to 1,000 students. Orlando Business Journal. As members of the Destin community lobbied for a charter high school in town, they turned to a Tallahassee-based consulting company, Collaborative Education Network, for help in getting organized and taking the necessary steps to open a school. Destin High School opens in the fall for about 300 9th- and 10th-graders, and adds a grade in each of the following two years. Northwest Florida Daily News.
Tax increase vote: Monroe County School Board members have agreed to ask voters to approve the renewal of a half-mill property tax levy on the ballot March 17. The tax must be renewed every four years; this will be the fifth time voters have been asked to continue it. School officials call it the flexible fund initiative because it allows the district to decide how to use the money. In return, the school board cuts the capital tax by the same half mill. “So there’s no tax increase at all; it’s a wash,” said board member Andy Griffiths. Keys Weekly.
Vaccination plans: Starting in May, the Florida Health Department in Flagler County will be offering students free vaccinations from 3:30-5:30 p.m. on every second Tuesday of the month. Health officials decided on the expansion after the school board chose not to offer vaccinations to 6th-graders in schools against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical, tonsil and other cancers. Flagler Live.
Educator honored: Jennifer Casey has been named mentor of the year for the Volusia County School District by the Futures Foundation for Volusia County Schools’ Take Stock in Children organization. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Costly scheduling error: Marisa Davino’s story is a cautionary tale for high school students about using specialized diplomas to qualify for college scholarships under the Bright Futures program. As a senior at Seminole Ridge High School in Palm Beach County, she broke a scheduling rule by taking a class too far removed from a related class and lost her eligibility for a specialized diploma from the University of Cambridge in England. That, in turn, led to the loss of her Bright Futures scholarship. The 19-year-old now has student loans, has needed assistance from her family and works long shifts as a hostess at a restaurant to meet her expenses. Palm Beach Post.
New school building: The Bay County School Board has approved the construction of a building for science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes at Bay High School. The proposal had been discussed for years, but got sidetracked when Hurricane Michael hit the area in 2018. The building is expected to cost $5.5 million and take 12 to 16 months to complete. Panama City News Herald.
Boundary website: Lake County school officials have launched a website to inform parents and others about school attendance boundary changes. The district is opening two schools in the next three years, and will be making changes in current school zones. The website is lake.k12.fl.us/redistricting. Daily Commercial.
A history lesson: Students and others who lived through the turbulent time of desegregation in the Alachua County School District look back at the often painful process and ahead at the challenges of educational equity that the district still faces. Gainesville Sun.
School calendar: Schools will open Aug. 13 for the 2020-2021 year, Monroe County school officials have announced. The last day is May 28, 2021. Key West Citizen.
School makeup day: Today is a makeup school day for Brevard County students for a day they missed when school were closed for three days last September because of Hurricane Dorian. The other two days were made up in January. Brevard Times.
Employees and the law: A Charlotte County teacher has been arrested and accused of possession of cocaine. Cheryl Lynn Vollmar, 53, helps teach 5th-grade students at Peace River Elementary in Port Charlotte. She was placed on paid administrative leave pending the resolution of the court case. WINK. Charlotte Sun. A former girls basketball coach at Buchholz High School in Gainesville will receive $25,000 from the Alachua County School District as part of a settlement over her firing. Rebecca Williams was a student services specialist and coach at the school when she was fired in 2016 after refusing to resign. She sued, alleging racial and gender discrimination. Gainesville Sun.
Students and the law: A Florida appeals court has ruled that a former North Marion High School student who sent a Snapchat photo to a student showing a weapon with the caption “Show and Tell @NM on Monday” can be prosecuted. The decision overruled a circuit judge’s decision to dismiss the case. The ex-student was charged with sending a written threat to kill or do bodily injury to a child two weeks after the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. News Service of Florida. Ocala Star-Banner. Three Seminole County high school students were arrested and accused of bringing a pellet gun to Lake Brantley High School and making a threat. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. WMFE. A 16-year-old former student at Astronaut High School who allegedly threatened students with a gun early last week was arrested three days later when he crashed a stolen car into a Titusville police cruiser, according to officers. Florida Today. Duval County school officials said they will meet with representatives from the mental health nonprofit that made the decision recently to Baker Act a 6-year-old student for behavior problems. A video of the incident showed a calm girl acting pleasantly while being led out of school by a deputy. Florida Times-Union.
Opinions in schools: No one can promise there will not be another tragedy in the future like the one in Parkland. What I can promise is this: the men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office are better trained and our resources better focused so that we can respond faster, smarter and more effectively. Sheriff Gregory Tony, Sun Sentinel. If Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature are truly willing to put their money where their mouth is by properly training teachers, effectively creating paths to higher level math thinking and funding new measures appropriately, Florida has a real shot at leading the way in education. Cortney Stewart, Citrus County Chronicle. Leon County high schools lead the way in northwest Florida in preparing students college for college STEM majors. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Inflicting pain to disadvantaged students by bullying corporate donors to stop contributing to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is no way to make progress. James Bush III, Florida Politics. Online predators are why middle school students should not have their own cell phones. Gil Smart, TCPalm.
Student enrichment: Weeks of training led to this moment: the opening night of Mainland High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Several Alachua County high school students have won national recognition this year for their academic achievements. WUFT. Students at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School complete an unusual assignment: create a pitch for the HGTV makeover show Home Town to convince the show’s producers that their small community should be chosen to receive a half-dozen renovation projects by show stars Erin and Ben Napier of Laurel, Miss. Port St. Joe Star.