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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: 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: 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 →


Florida schools roundup: Backpacks, cell phones, podcast teacher and more

School security: Clear backpacks were in use Monday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the verdict is in: the students don’t like them. Some say they aren’t effective and convey a false sense of security, and others say it’s an invasion of privacy. Many personalized the backpacks with protest messages. Sun-SentinelWPLG. School leaders in central Florida say the security measures mandated by the new state law will cost more than they’ve been given and will take too long to implement. For example, money for hardening schools isn’t likely to be distributed until 2019. Orlando Sentinel. Putnam County School Board members seem to favor putting resource officers in every school instead of arming school personnel, but need to find about $1 million to hire those officers. WJAX. One overlooked aspect of a school or district arming teachers or school employees is insurance. Some carriers decline to insure schools who arm staff because of heightened liability. NBC News. Lake County School Board members and district officials participate in a mock active-shooter exercise. Orlando Sentinel.

Cell phones in schools: Cell phones are becoming more accepted in U.S. schools, according to a new survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. About two-thirds of U.S. schools still ban cell phones in school, but that’s down from 90 percent in 2009-2010. The change is more striking among high school students. Eight years ago, 80 percent of high schools banned them from schools. Now it’s about 35 percent. Researchers say parents want to be able to contact their children in emergencies, and districts are finding that phones offer another learning tool that doesn’t cost them money. Associated Press.

Podcast teacher resigns: The Citrus County middle school social studies teacher who hosted a white nationalist podcast under a pseudonym is resigning. Dayanna Volitich, 25, acknowledged assuming the name Tiana Dalichov for her podcast, in which she told listeners that some races don’t learn as well as others and that Muslims needed to be “eradicated.” She claimed her comments were satirical. Volitich was removed from her Crystal River Middle School classroom in March, and submitted her resignation Monday. Citrus County ChronicleWTSP. WFLA. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, vouchers, home-schooling and more

Alternative tests: The Florida Department of Education is proposing to toughen the passing standards for students who use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments 10th-grade language arts and algebra 1 exams in order to graduate. In 2017, more than 35,000 of the 168,000 Florida high school graduates used the SAT, ACT or other tests instead of the FSA. If approved by the Florida Board of Education, the higher standards could be in place as early as Aug. 1. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Voucher capital: Florida already leads the nation in the amount of tax money given to school voucher programs, and the expansion is continuing. The Legislature just passed a law to pay for students who are bullied to go to private schools, and spends nearly $900 million a year on various scholarship programs for almost 140,000 students. Ohio has the second-largest program, spending about $266 million last year, according to the school choice advocacy group EdChoice. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, recently said in a speech: “You voucherize the entire system and put that power in the hands of parents, you change education.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Despite the charter-friendly atmosphere in the state, two additional voucher proposals won’t make it to the state ballot in November. redefinED.

Home-schooling bill signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 731, which restricts the amount of information school districts can require from parents who want to home-school their children. Some parents had complained that certain districts were making it hard to register for home-schooling. Among the 17 other bills Scott signed were ones giving refunds to university students with excess credits who graduate within four years and establishing a statewide program accountability system for school readiness providers. redefinED. WKRG. Florida Politics. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tax levies pass, school security, finances and more

Tax hike votes: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties approve an additional 1 mill on property taxes for schools, by a wide margin in Sarasota and a narrow one in Manatee. In Sarasota, the extra $55 million in each of the next four years will help pay for 30 extra minutes of classtime a day, higher teacher salaries and more art teachers and behavioral specialists. In Manatee, the extra $33 million a year for the next four years will be used to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes, pay teachers and other employees more, expand STEM and career programs and support charter schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Martin County School Board members are considering asking voters to approve a hike in property taxes to pay for teacher bonuses and construction projects. If approved, the measure could raise about $11.2 million a year for four years. TCPalm.

School security, finances: Putting a resource officer in every Pinellas County school by July 1 will cost $23.6 million, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri tells the county commission. The state’s contribution is $6.1 million, and the sheriff’s office and municipal police departments’ contribution is $1.6 million, leaving the school district to find $12.4 million to put 201 school resource officers in the 139 district schools and 18 charter schools. And, Gualtieri notes, there would be an additional $11.2 million needed for upfront costs such as cars, weapons, uniforms and computers. Neighboring Hillsborough County school officials say the district will get an additional $41 million from the state, but still is projecting a $16 million deficit because of new state requirements on school security, an expected 3,000 extra students and other expenses. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin talks about the district’s finances, and the new education and school safety bills. WMNF. The head of one of Florida’s largest charter school networks is asking the 13 districts where it has schools to provide resource officers on every campus by April 1. Gradebook. The Gulf Breeze City Council votes to fund the placement of part-time officers in all the city’s elementary schools through the end of the school year. WEAR.

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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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