Florida schools roundup: Teacher turnover, top teacher finalist and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher turnover: School districts in west-central Florida are struggling to find teachers willing to work in low-income and low-rated schools. Incentive money alone is not working. “It’s working conditions above anything else that determines whether teachers stay or go,” says Sonja Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy at the Education Trust, whose group has researched schools in poor neighborhoods that achieve high results. Tampa Bay Times. Opt-outs by teachers and principals are creating substantial numbers of openings at low-rated schools in Pinellas County that the district has targeted for turnaround. Gradebook.

Top teacher finalist: Laurie Zentz, the band director at Switzerland Point Middle School in St. Johns County, is one of five finalists for Florida Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in July. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. St. Augustine Record.

Debit cards and food: Orange County teachers are angry that the district is ordering them to repay any food purchases they made with their state-issued “classroom supply” debit cards. District officials said they were following orders from the state that prohibit food purchases. When asked directly about it Friday, district officials said food bought for academic lessons, such as science experiments, doesn’t have to be reimbursed. That message was not shared across the district, though. Florida provides districts money for teachers to buy “classroom materials and supplies” for students. Orange County’s teachers had $275 each to spend this school year. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuit: A group of black pastors is urging the state NAACP to drop out of the lawsuit challenging the legality of tax-credit scholarships. “We see no principled reason to fight an education program that is targeted exclusively at low-income children and has a 14-year track record of helping black students succeed,” according to a petition directed to the NAACP. A Leon County Circuit Court judge dismissed the case last May, and an appeal will be heard Tuesday by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers tax-credit scholarships for about 80,000 low-income students, and also the Gardiner Scholarships for students with disabilities. Politico Florida.

Unexplained expenses: Broward School District maintenance officials cannot detail how they spent $145,000 on sod for high school football fields. So the school board has denied a request for another $335,000 for several more projects, This is the third time recently that questions have been raised about the district’s handling of money. Sun-Sentinel.

College’s offer: The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is offering free tuition, fees and a book stipend to any student who graduates from the State College of Florida Collegiate School with a certain grade point average. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

Strategic plan: Brevard School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn will present the draft of his strategic plan to the school board Tuesday. The six key initiatives are: fostering employee engagement; promoting smart and transparent financial management; creating an equitable distribution of school district resources and facilities throughout the district; allowing individual schools and individual employees more autonomy; and encouraging open communication between the school district, its employees and the public. Florida Today.

Absenteeism policy: Broward County teachers say the school district’s new grading policy that requires teachers to accept late work even if a student’s absence was unexcused. Teacher say the policy will encourage absenteeism. Sun-Sentinel.

Security breach: Social Security numbers for about 5,800 Palm Beach County teachers were mistakenly sent to a vendor by the school district. Sun-Sentinel.

Testing investigation: The state is investigating Moton Elementary School in Brooksville for possible improprieties with standardized testing. Tampa Bay Times.

Murgio inquiry: Law enforcement officials say former Palm Beach County School Board member Mike Murgio’s bribery indictment ties directly to his increasing involvement in the criminal operations of his son Anthony. Anthony Murgio, federal prosecutors say, started the money-exchange company that allegedly laundered cash for Internet criminals. Palm Beach Post.

Prom problem: The mother of a South Dade Senior High School student who was gunned down was thrilled that a state legislator asked her to attend the prom so she could live out her daughter’s dream. But the night soured for Regina Talabert when she and state Rep. Kionne McGhee were asked to leave. The reason? “There’s a rule — parents don’t come into the ballroom,” says assistant principal J.C. DeArmas said. He also says the school never received a call to clear the visit. Miami Herald.

District cost-cutting: The Hillsborough County School District is struggling to find cuts to improve its financial situation. The district has been chipping away at a $142 million deficit. But there’s a long way to go, and bigger and more difficult decisions must be made soon. Tampa Bay Times.

Religion in schools: The American Civil Liberties Union and Hillsborough School Superintendent Jeff Eakins remain at odds about the group’s constitutional concerns about religious proselytizing in the county’s public schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Contract dispute: Volusia County teachers union, which is at an impasse with the district over pay, say the district’s top administrators all make above the state average in pay, while teachers do not. “It is disconcerting,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman with the Florida Education Association. “Though school districts routinely say they don’t have the money to pay teachers and other school employees fairly, they seem to have no trouble coming up with the money to increase their compensation.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Impasse continues: The Lake County School District rejects a special magistrate’s ruling in the impasse with the Service Employees International Union over the way summer jobs would be awarded. The union wants district seniority used, and the district wants position seniority. The sides will meet again May 23. Orlando Sentinel.

District’s deal: The Miami-Dade school district and county hall have come to an agreement to help provide parking for the publicly owned Adrienne Arsht Center in return for an undisclosed plot of downtown land that could one day be used for a new school. Miami Herald.

Graduation rate revised: A recalculation by the Florida Department of Education has boosted the Indian River County School District’s 2015 graduation rate from 75.7 percent to 81.2 percent. The Lafayette County district was also revised, according to Politico Florida, going from 80.7 percent to 87 percent after the corrections were made. Those adjustments raised the state’s average from 77.8 percent to 77.9 percent. TCPalm.

School uniforms: As Volusia County schools set their dress codes, district officials are looking for guidance from Flagler County, which made the decision to have school uniforms in 2012. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Old school sold: The Seminole County School District has sold a schoolhouse that was built in 1902. The Sanford property was a school until the early 1980s, and has been a museum and field trip destination since then. The buyer will turn the school into a professional work space and event venue. Orlando Sentinel.

Principal of principle: Fort Walton Beach High School principal John Spolski is named the winner of Varsity Brand’s “Principal of Principle” contest. The national award honors high schools for sports, spirit and achievement. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Employees on leave: The First Coast Technical College’s board of directors place the school’s president and two other employees on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of investigations into the school’s affairs by the St. Johns County School District. The charter school’s financial situation is deteriorating, and there are allegations of administrative and reporting practices. St. Augustine Record.

Guns in schools: Two Chamberlain High School students are arrested and accused of bringing a handgun and ammunition to the Tampa school. Tampa Bay Times. A part-time corrections officer at the Bay County Jail who was at Patterson Elementary School for a job interview accidentally shoots himself in the leg in the school parking lot. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher arrested: Melissa Lee Borsch, a 35-year-old special education instructional aide at Land O’Lakes High School, is arrested and accused of having sex with two male students, ages 15 and 17. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher accused: David Ferguson, a 29-year-old English teacher at Fort Pierce Central High School, is accused of an improper relationship with a student. He was removed from the classroom and the Indian River County School Board is expected to fire him Tuesday. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: When you give a for-profit charter school company access to taxpayer funds with minimal oversight, should you really be shocked when money is missing? John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. The Hillsborough County School District gets an A for its plan to cut the amount of testing for students. Tampa Bay Times. To provide facilities students need, school districts must start to build schools with groundbreaking efficiency. Sun-Sentinel. Accept the chance to volunteer one day in a school classroom. It is an eye-opening moment that will tug at you for many days following. Byron Dobson, Tallahassee Democrat. The Fletcher High School mock trial team adds to the foundation that the late teacher Ed Lange started. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Giving high school students the chance to express their thoughts and feelings about what is going on around them at events such as the FutureMakers Coalition’s summit is something the world needs to see more of. Ali Medico, Fort Myers News-Press.

Student enrichment: Lehigh Elementary students show off their “Leader in Me” skills by hosting an open house for teachers and administrators from other Lee County schools. Leader in Me schools adopt the principles of author Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Fort Myers News-Press. Magnolia Montessori students, parents and staff celebrate their improvement from an F school to an A school in a single year. Lakeland Ledger. Eighteen Collier County schools receive grants from Collier Greens, with the financial backing of local tomato grower Lipman Produce, to grow and maintain school gardens. Naples Daily News. Haines City and Ridge Community high schools each will receive a $40,000 grant from the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates’ Jobs for Florida Graduates program. The grants will pay for counselors to help students learn prominent life skills. Winter Haven News Chief. Three Florida schools will take part in a project to study the state’s sands. Beaches Episcopal School in Jacksonville Beach, St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton and Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg will exchange sand samples and begin to build a database. Florida Times-Union. Gulf Breeze Elementary third-graders get a history lesson at the annual Medieval Festival. Pensacola News Journal. The Vanguard School store, which sells snacks and drinks to students, teaches students business principles and real life math skills. Winter Haven News Chief. About 50 K-8 students from Gadsden and Leon counties will participate in a Freedom School this summer to supplement their school education. WFSU.

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BY NextSteps staff