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Florida schools roundup: Tax hikes, security for schools, budgets and more

Sales tax hikes: The Martin County School Board is asking residents to approve two tax hikes. In August, voters will be asked to approve a half-mill property tax increase to boost teacher pay and development and pay for school security and extra mental-health services. The tax would raise about $11.2 million a year for four years. In November, voters will consider a seven-year, half-cent sales tax increase that would generate about $112 million for school construction and upgrades. TCPalm. Okaloosa County School Board member Dewey Destin wants to district to reconsider a ballot initiative to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to raise money for schools. If approved, the tax hike would raise about $17 million a year for the district, which could spend it only for capital projects such as construction and upgrades. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School security forces: Brevard County School Board members brush off a protest against arming school employees, and the advice of the superintendent and county sheriff, and say they will proceed with gathering information on the state’s marshal program. Board members say they’d prefer to have school resource officers, but the district doesn’t have the money and they aren’t interested in tapping reserves or raising taxes. Three town hall meetings are scheduled to discuss the best way to protect schools, and the board will decide next month whether to approve the marshals program. Florida Today. Switching to an internal police department will save the Sarasota County School District up to $1.5 million in the 2018-2019 school year, officials say. There is some question whether the district can put together a department of two administrators, a detective, two sergeants and 24 deputies before the next school year begins Aug. 13. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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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. 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: Education amendment, funding request and more

Education amendment: A proposed constitutional amendment that bundles three education issues will appear on the November ballot. The Constitution Revision Commission, in a 27-10 vote, approves Proposal 6003, which calls for eight-year term limits on school board members, gives the authority to approve charter schools to an entity other than local school boards, and requires civics to be taught in public schools. It was one of eight amendments approved on Monday. Another education proposal, which would have allowed “high-performing” public school districts to apply for an exemption from following some state laws and regulations, as charter schools can now, was rejected by the CRC. There will be 13 amendment proposals on the ballot. Each must be approved by 60 percent of voters to take effect. Miami Herald. News Service of FloridaGradebook. redefinED. Orlando SentinelAssociated Press. Politico Florida.

Education funding: The state’s school superintendents say that if legislators are going to be called for a special session on gambling, they should also reconsider funding for education. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents wants the Legislature to increase the base allocation by $152 per student, which would cost the state about $300 million. It also wants to be able to use money from the program that calls for arming school employees to instead hire school resource officers. A previous request by the group for a special session to take another look at education funding was denied. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School removing teachers, amendments and more

All teachers to be removed: Every teacher at a struggling Hernando County elementary school will be removed at the end of the school year, school officials said at a meeting Friday. Administrators decided to give Moton Elementary School a “fresh start” after it has received D grades from the state the past two years. District spokesperson Karen Jordan says without the move, the state would have taken over the school. Veteran teachers will be transferred, while newer teachers will have to apply for other open jobs in the district. Tampa Bay Times.

Education amendments: The Constitution Revision Commission will consider 12 ballot proposals this week. Two of them address K-12 education. Proposal 6003 would place an eight-year term limit on school board members, allow an alternative process for approving public and charter schools, and require civics education in public schools. Proposal 6008 would allow “high-performing” school districts exemptions from following some laws that apply to districts. The commission must send its ballot proposals to the secretary of state by May 10. News Service of Florida. redefinED. The proposal to bundle three education proposals into a single amendment for voters to consider in November is drawing criticism from education leaders around the state. Gradebook.

Charter schools’ troubles: Even as the Eagle Arts Academy charter school missed making a payroll for its teachers, it continued to pay another company owned by school founder Gregory Blount for the use of the school name, logo, website and data-processing system, according to school records. The company has been paid at least $42,000 since last June by the Wellington school. Palm Beach Post. Eagle Arts Academy teachers got a full paycheck Friday, though they remain concerned about the checks they’re due at the end of the month. District officials say they’ll close the school within the next 90 days unless it can balance its budget and pay more than $700,000 in back rent. Palm Beach Post. The Brevard County School Board will decide Tuesday whether to close the Legacy Academy Charter School in Port St. John. District officials say the 200-student K-6 school is in a financial emergency, employs noncertified teachers and operates without basic instructional materials. Florida Today. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: ‘Safety specialists,’ budgets, testing and more

Security in schools: The Polk County School District and Sheriff Grady Judd are working on a plan to have an armed “safety specialist” in all county elementary schools this fall. The district is finalizing a job description, but the specialists will fall between a sworn school resource officer and an armed school employee. As many as 90 will be hired, and the school district will pay for them. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the pay will be “significantly less” than what resource officers and teachers make. Judd says the specialists’ job is to be a “visual deterrent to an active shooter, and be trained to suppress the active shooter threat” if necessary. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFLA. Manatee and Sarasota school districts are struggling to find funding to comply with the state law to have an officer in every school by fall. Law enforcement authorities in both counties contend that since the school districts are getting some money from the state, they should be responsible for the full costs of school security. WWSB.

Budget ‘crisis’: Volusia County School Board members say the district is in “crisis mode” after the preliminary budget shows a deficit of $4.2 million. School officials blame a small increase in funding from the state, an underfunded state mandate on school security and proposed 1 percent teacher raises for the deficit. “I’m a little alarmed by it and very cautious about what we must do,” says board chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, who noted that decisions need to be made soon. “It’s certainly going to be a difficult budget cycle,” says Deb Muller, chief financial officer for the district. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Testing cautions: National Assessment of Educational Progress testing results have positive news about Florida, and particularly several three large school districts. But they also show there’s work to be done, especially in 8th-grade math and in closing the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups. redefinED. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says her top goal is to close the academic achievement gap between students of different racial and economic backgrounds. She says part of the problem is chronic teacher absenteeism. “I can tell you … with our most vulnerable students that we have our teachers that are less motivated and less capable. We’ve got to make that shift and we’ve got to help them become better or help them find another profession,” Stewart said in a speaking appearance in Sarasota. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Board wants to arm school staff, forgotten gun and more

School security: While the Brevard County school superintendent and sheriff now agree that the school district should reject the state’s guardian program, a majority of school board members say they want to move forward with the program to arm select employees. The district needs $5 million it doesn’t have to put a resource officer in every school, and board members say the guardian program can help bridge the gap. Florida Today. Clay County school officials say meeting the state mandates on school security will cost the district at least $15 million, and the district won’t get nearly that much from the state. Florida Times-Union. Clay Today. Collier County school officials say they’ll improve school security by locking school doors, adding access control systems and requiring photo IDs from every visitor. “We didn’t get any additional (state) funds for hardening schools or for safety equipment,” says Superintendent Kamela Patton. “We think this new layer of security across the district is a really good value for what we’re doing.” Naples Daily NewsWGCU. Manatee County commissioners want the school district to foot the bill for putting a resource officer in every school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Leon County School District begins negotiations with law enforcement officials to determine how to put a resource officer into 21 elementary schools that don’t have one. Tallahassee Democrat. Monroe County School Board members agree to ask voters in August to increase their taxes to raise money for school security. Key West Citizen. Lee County school officials say Bonita Springs High School, which opens in August, has special security measures built in and will be a model of safety for future schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

School shooting developments: A Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher who says he’d be willing to carry a gun in school to protect students is arrested and charged with failing to safely store a firearm. Broward sheriff’s deputies say Sean Simpson forgot his handgun in the public bathroom at the Deerfield Beach Pier. A drunken homeless man found it and fired a bullet into a wall before Simpson was able to disarm him. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. WPLG. Confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz wants to donate whatever inheritance he’s due to a charity that will help his victims, his lawyer says. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Security measures, nation’s report card and more

School security: The Broward County School Board accepts Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation and votes unanimously against participating in the state’s guardian program to arm specified school employees. The district will ask the state if it can redirect money from the guardian program to hire resource officers. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. The state will send Duval County $4 million for school safety, but interim superintendent Patricia Willis says the district needs $14 million to place a resource officer in every school. Florida Times-Union. Palm Beach County School Superintendent Donald Fennoy is planning to restructure the district’s police force, which includes choosing a new chief and adding 75 officers to the 150 it has now. Palm Beach Post. Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey, who had strongly pushed the school board to participate in the guardian program, is now recommending against it, and Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says he agrees. Ivey says he’s worried the debate about arming school employees is overshadowing the more important need for resource officers in every school. Florida Today. Polk County school officials are considering hiring armed security guards for their schools. “Basically, what we’re doing is creating our own police force,” says Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. Lakeland Ledger. To meet state mandates on school security, many Florida districts are shifting money from other projects, including instructional, dipping into reserves or contemplating borrowing. Reuters.

More on report card: While most of the nation had so-so results on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics assessments, also known as the nation’s report card, Florida students outperformed their peers in grades 4 and 8 reading and grade 4 math, and was the only state to show improvements in three of the four categories. Three large Florida districts — Miami-Dade, Duval and Hillsborough — also ranked among the leaders of the 27 that participated in a trial urban district assessment. Here’s the full NAEP report and highlights. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WJXTredefinED. Miami HeraldThe 74Florida Governor’s Office. What’s Florida doing that other states could emulate? Education Week. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praises Florida as a “bright spot” in NAEP testing, but pointing to the stagnant scores and a widening achievement gap, says “we can and we must do better for America’s students.” Education Week. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Florida aces nation’s report card, security and more

Nation’s report card: Florida is the only state that improved in the National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, according the annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Florida is also just one of nine states showing improvement in the reading exam. Among the nation’s larger districts, Hillsborough County was first in 4th-grade reading and math, and 8th-graders tied for first in reading and were tied for second in math. NAEP exam results are called the “nation’s report card” because they are a common test that can compare student academic performance across the country. “Something very good is happening in Florida, obviously,” says Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of assessment at the NCES. “Florida needs to be commended.” Nationally, test results showed little or no gains. Orlando SentinelTampa Bay Times. Chalkbeat. Hechinger Report. U.S. News & World Report. For the first time, a majority of U.S. students took the tests on computer tablets. Some educators are concerned that the change makes year-to-year score comparisons unreliable. Chalkbeat.

School security: The Jefferson County School Board votes against allowing school employees to carry concealed weapons in schools. School Superintendent Marianne Arbulu and Sheriff Mac McNeill agree that only deputies and resource officers should be armed on campus. WTXL. Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will need to find $1.8 million to put a resource officer in every school in August. The state is contributing $3.4 million to the district for the officers, but the total cost will be $5.2 million, Greene says. She also provided details of how the district will spend money from the voter-approved increase in property taxes for schools. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Citrus County commissioners are considering using  law enforcement impact fees and the other drug seizure funds to pay for school resource officers. Citrus County Chronicle. Student leaders from Lake County high schools collaborate to create a survey on school safety for students. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →