Mary Beth Jackson
Prosecution over books urged: A conservative group that’s been pushing for school districts to remove books that include explicit sex scenes or LGBTQ relationships is now asking the state attorney general to prosecute schools that make those materials available. “We demand that the attorney general enforce existing anti-pornography statutes,” according to a statement from the Florida Citizens Alliance, “… and that the Legislature take whatever action is necessary to strengthen existing laws that are being completely ignored by public schools!” Among the books the group considers offensive: Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslie Newman, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García. Gradebook.
Charter school expansion: A prominent nonprofit charter school company has announced that it plans to open four schools in Jacksonville in 2022. Texas-based IDEA Public Schools said the schools will educate about 900 students, most of whom are minorities and qualify for free school meals. No locations were named. The company has about 60 schools in Texas and Louisiana, and had previously announced plans to build four in the Tampa area this year. City Council member Rory Diamond wrote that landing IDEA was an “incredible get for our community. Will be transformative for At Hope kids and parents with no other options.” Florida Times-Union.
The DeSantis agenda: Gov. Ron DeSantis has laid out an ambitious agenda, especially on educational matters, including higher starting teacher pay, a change in the way bonuses are given to educators, increasing funding of mental health services for students, and improving security in schools. But there are questions about how much of that agenda can get through the Legislature, even though it’s dominated by his fellow Republicans. Many prominent lawmakers question where the money is coming from to pay for all these initiatives and others. Orlando Sentinel. Education and other issues to watch in the legislative session that begins next Tuesday. Tampa Bay Times.
Education spending: The amount of money available for capital spending in the state’s K-12 schools is expected to increase by nearly $75 million over the appropriated level, according to the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference. More than $353 million would be available from the Public Education Capital Outlay without resorting to bonding. With bonds, the maximum amount available would be $3.129 billion. Florida Politics. The Revenue Estimating Conference also announced that $2.3 billion will be available in the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which is about $53 million more than projected in November. Florida Politics.
School board term limits: A bill has been filed in the Florida Senate that would ask voters to pass a constitutional amendment to limit local school board members to no more than eight consecutive years in office. Filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, the bill is identical to one sponsored in the House by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Clermont. Another Senate bill, filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, would cap school board service at 12 years. WFSU.
Security in schools: The Broward County School District and mayors in the county are asking the Legislature for an additional $60 million to pay for full security coverage at each of the district’s schools. The district now pays municipalities $55,000 for each resource officer assigned to schools. But the cost to the municipality for that officer’s salary, vehicle, radio and other equipment can cost as much as $170,000, say Broward officials. Florida Politics.
Career help for students: Florida’s students would get much more information about potential career paths and alternatives to college under a bill proposed by state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine. S.B. 1578 would require guidance counselors to advise students about the costs of college and the potential earnings in a given profession, and also be told about “alternative career paths.” The bill also would expand the ability of universities and their affiliates to start charter schools. Florida Politics.
Still waiting on FEMA: The Lee County School District has now received about $5 million in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damages caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. But the district still waiting for another $26 million to pay for repairs. School officials attribute the delay to the process, which requires FEMA to evaluate claims, decide how much should be paid and send the money to the state, which then audits each claim before releasing the money. The district took out a $25 million short-term loan to begin the repairs while waiting for federal reimbursement. Fort Myers News-Press.
Teacher pay: Monroe County has the highest average teacher salary in the state, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education data. Teachers in the Keys are paid an average of $57,285 on a 10-month contract. Monroe is followed by Collier ($55,211), Sarasota ($54,719), Broward ($51,678) and Miami-Dade ($51,395). Gadsden County’s teachers are the lowest paid with an average of $38,825. According to data compiled by the National Education Association, Florida ranked 47th in the nation with an average salary of $48,395. Orlando Business Journal.
Contract ratification: Pasco County teachers could see 3.25 percent raises in their paychecks as early as Feb. 21 if the school board approves the negotiated deal next Tuesday and the teachers ratify it on Jan. 29. In addition to the raises, teachers won’t pay any extra for health insurance premiums. Gradebook.
Teachers honored: Five finalists have been chosen for the Marion County School District Golden Apple teacher of the year award. They are: Victoria Craig, a West Port High biology and environmental science teacher; Erin Darmody, a Dunnellon High media specialist; Euan Hunter, a Vanguard High chemistry teacher; Lindsey Flanagan, a 7th-grade civics teacher at Belleview Middle; and Katie Weston, a Liberty Middle teacher. The winner will be announced Jan. 24. Ocala Star-Banner. Finalists for the teacher of the year award in the St. Johns County School District were also announced. They are: Julie Durden, who teaches American Sign Language at Palm Valley Academy; Aletha Dresback, a 6th- and 7th-grade social studies teacher at Valley Ridge Academy; Julie Haden, a 1st-grade teacher at Freedom Crossing Academy; Lori Price, a 1st-grade teacher at the Webster School; and Evan Tisdale, who teaches middle school special needs students at the Transition School. The winner will be announced Jan. 31. St. Augustine Record.
Superintendent search: Now that the eight finalists for the job of the Hillsborough County School District have been chosen, the lobbying for and against certain candidates has begun. The finalists will be interviewed by the board on Jan. 16, with the field being cut to two or three, and a final vote is expected Jan. 21. Superintendent Jeff Eakins is retiring no later than June 30. Gradebook.
A district’s agenda: The Sarasota County School Board has a long to-do list for 2020, which it will start addressing at today’s meeting. Board members need to hire a new superintendent, restore relationships with the teachers union and work toward a contract with it, sort through litigation over the district’s treatment of students with special needs, set a security protocol for board meetings and see how the outcome of elections for two seats affects the balance of the board. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Reading plan proposal: Manatee County school officials say on Monday they will roll out an initiative they’re calling the “Big Plan” to bring students from 10 low-income schools in three zip codes up to grade-level reading. “While great strides have been made improving school grades and programs offered at those schools, the work is far from complete,” the district wrote in a news release. “Students who are not reading on grade-level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.” The plan is being supported by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, United Way Suncoast, the school district, Manatee County government, the Manatee Community Foundation, the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County and the Patterson Foundation. Bradenton Herald.
School enrollment: Enrollment in Volusia County’s traditional public schools is down by about 300 this year over last. Alternative school choice is thought to be one of the causes for the decline. In the 2008-2009 school year, 88 percent of the county’s students attended traditional schools. That’s declined to 83.5 percent last year. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
School choice programs: The deadline to apply for a seat in a Miami-Dade County School District magnet program is Jan. 15. About 380 programs are offered at more than 100 schools. WTVJ.
Sidewalks for schools: The city of Leesburg is applying for a $500,000 federal school safety grant to help build 12,000 feet of sidewalks so students can walk safely to Beverly Shores Elementary School. Daily Commercial.
School busing mediation: The Leon County School District is in mediation with Education Logistics Inc. to resolve a dispute over problems with the company’s bus routing and tracking software that resulted in serious transportation issues at the beginning of the school year. The sides agreed to try mediation to avoid going to court. Tallahassee Democrat.
Jackson loses legal fees fight: An Okaloosa County circuit judged has ruled that the school district does not have to reimburse $283,000 in legal fees to former school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Jackson was removed from the job by Gov. Ron DeSantis a year ago for incompetence, then reinstated in August as part of an agreement under which she would resign. Jackson then sued the school board for payment of her legal fees. Northwest Florida Daily News.
School district sued: The Manatee County School District is being sued by a software company that says the district owes it almost $780,000. Ciber Global is the software company that installed a new business system that came in more than $15 million over budget and, the district says, didn’t work as it was supposed to. The project began in 2016. Ciber declared bankruptcy in 2017 and was taken over by new ownership. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
School crossing guards hit: A school crossing guard in Orange County is in critical condition after being pinned by a car that was involved in an accident with two other vehicles Wednesday in Winter Garden. Another school crossing guard suffered minor injuries earlier in the day after being hit by a car just southwest of Winter Garden. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. A school crossing guard was helping students across a Clearwater street Wednesday when he was hit by a vehicle. The driver then tried to leave the scene, but was pinned in by other drivers and was taken into custody by police. The crossing guard was taken to a hospital to be treated for what police called “nonlife-threatening” injuries. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFTS.
Shooting at school: A person suffered a self-inflicted wound in the leg inside a car in the parking lot at Glades Central High School in Belle Glade on Wednesday, leading to a brief lockdown at the school, according to Palm Beach County School District officials. No students were involved in the shooting, the officials said. WPTV. Palm Beach Post.
Teacher arrested: A Flagler County teacher has been arrested and charged with battery after allegedly carrying a 14-year-old boy out of his classroom and shoving him down the hallway. Jeffrey Paffumi, 47, is a teacher at Buddy Taylor Middle School. WJXT. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. WKMG. WFTV.
Students and the law: A 14-year-old student has been arrested for allegedly bringing a gun to Miami Carol City High School in Miami Gardens. WSVN.
Opinions on schools: Charter schools have a role to play in providing choices in education, especially in communities with legacies of failing schools. But a recent report detailing $1 billion in federal funds have been wasted in the past 25 years clearly shows that there needs to be strict standards to protect parents from schools that are unable to perform either financially or educationally. Florida Times-Union. Parents with means can choose a school for their children by moving to the neighborhood of a preferred public school or paying private school tuition. But the children of the poor also have to be schooled, and their parents’ authority to choose could be realized without increasing the total cost to the taxpayer – if that is an object of reform. John E. Coons, redefined. It doesn’t take statewide legislation for school districts to move a teacher work day up a few days to have students be out of school the day after Halloween. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel.
Student enrichment: Alachua County high school students will get lessons in the election process from the supervisor of elections office during campus visits this month. Students must be 18 to vote, but can preregister at age 16. WCJB. Fourteen Lee County schools have been named by the Florida Department of Education as Five Star School Award winners for the 2018-2019 school year. Cape Coral Daily Breeze. Lecanto’s Saint John Paul II Catholic School, in Citrus County, has been named an International Baccalaureate school. Citrus County Chronicle. A social media campaign raised about $600 to pay past-due lunch debts in Brevard County schools and another $1,800 for future lunches. Florida Today.