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Florida schools roundup: Spending, transfers, class size suit and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool spending: Florida schools are still struggling to recover from spending cuts made during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, say superintendents and other school officials. The Florida School Finance Council, which advises the commissioner of education, says the state would have to spend an additional $1.86 billion over the next three years to offset those cutbacks. “School revenue is back to where it was in 2007, (but) does anybody believe costs are the same?” asked Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “I think where we’re feeling the pinch now is just the operational costs to really support and educate your kids.” Naples Daily News. St. Johns County school officials are “cautiously optimistic” after delving into Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed education budget, which would give them $17.6 million more. “In this day and age, that’s a pretty healthy increase,” said Mike Degutis, the district’s chief financial officer. “If this stands through the process, that’d be great for us.” St. Augustine Record.

Open enrollment: Orange County school officials say only 29 of the district’s 188 schools will be open to transfer students under the state’s new open enrollment law that begins in August. The list includes 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools and a K-8 school. Students who live in Orange County can apply now for one of those seats, while those who live outside the county can apply starting May 15. Orlando Sentinel. The Lake County School District begins accepting applications for transfers under the new law. Only 14 of the district’s 43 schools have openings for transfers. Daily Commercial.

Class size suit dismissed: A judge dismisses a lawsuit accusing the Palm Beach County School District of violating the state’s school class-size limits. A voter-approved amendment in 2002 capped K-3 “core” class sizes at 18 students. Paul Kunz filed the suit after his son was placed in a kindergarten class of 21 students. The judge ruled that an individual can’t sue a local school board over class-size rules since the state is responsible for their implementation. Palm Beach Post.

Charter regulation: Margate city commissioners give tentative approval to a rule that would require new charter schools to adhere to the same property regulations as traditional public schools. City rules require 12 acres for elementary schools, 20 acres for middle schools and 45 acres for high schools. Because there is little vacant land in Margate, Mayor Tommy Ruzzano says the rule would “pretty much” end new charter school applications. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers honored: Lauren Marlowe, a language arts teacher at Oak View Middle School, is named teacher of the year for the Alachua County School District. Gainesville Sun. Three finalists are chosen for the Sarasota County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are BJ Ivey, Riverview High; Christine Braun, Pine View School; and Holly Houghton-Brown, Tatum Ridge. The winner will be announced in April. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District hiring: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier’s staffing plan for the 2017-2018 school year calls for 114 new positions, including 60 more paraprofessionals, to help the district boost lagging test scores. The plan hinges on the money the district receives from the state. Ocala Star Banner.

Superintendent search: The Flagler County School Board has just four months to search for and hire a new superintendent before the current one leaves for a new job. Jacob Oliva told the board Jan. 13 that he was resigning as of May 26 to become vice chancellor of K-12 public schools for the Florida Department of Education. The school board meets Feb. 10 to take the initial steps of advertising the job and appointing a citizen’s committee. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Pitching education: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, speaking to a business group, says Florida needs to bolster its STEM and trades educational opportunities to keep young people living and working in the state. Florida Politics.

Personnel changes: Marcy Hetzler-Nettles, principal of River Ridge Middle School, is named the Pasco County School District’s assistant superintendent for middle schools. The job had been open four years. Gradebook. Tony Bennett, former Florida education commissioner, is appointed to a seat on the Clark County Council in Jeffersonville, Ind., but later is told he’s ineligible for the appointment because he needs one year of residency. He’s lived in the county just six months. Bennett resigned the Florida job in August 2013, less than a year after he was hired from the same job in Indiana, after it was reported that he changed Indiana’s school-grading system to help a prominent Republican donor’s charter school. Associated Press.

Charter sued: The Pinellas Westcoast Academy High charter school in Clearwater closed in December, but it’s being sued by its landlord for not paying almost $32,000 in rent. The academy was once managed by Newpoint Education Partners, but split after that company was indicted. Gradebook.

Weapons in schools: Guns have been found in Duval County schools nine times this school year, prompting a parents’ meeting and concern from Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who said schools need greater involvement by parents and guardians to stem the problem. Florida Times-Union.

Restorative justice: Southwest Florida school officials say a restorative justice program is having the intended effect on discipline in schools. Suspensions in Lee County high and middle schools were down 40 percent last semester, and Charlotte County has had just 10 suspensions in the past four years. The theory of restorative justice bypasses discipline in some cases, giving misbehaving students a chance to make amends in a sitdown session with their victims and other students and teachers. WGCU.

Defamation suit dismissed: A Manatee County judge dismisses the defamation suit against the Manatee County School Board and two former employees brought by former Manatee High School football coach and athletic director Joseph Kinnan. Kinnan was fired after two scandals within the boys sports programs. Kinnan’s attorney says he will amend the complaint and refile it. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers won’t be fired: Two Vero Beach High School teachers accused of tampering with online tests won’t be fired after all, Indian River County School Superintendent Mark Rendell says. He didn’t elaborate on why he changed his mind, or what discipline the teachers will face. TCPalm.

Substitute arrested: A man who won the 2016 substitute teacher of the year award for the Santa Rosa County School District is arrested and accused of molesting several children at Gulf Breeze Elementary School. Richard Mack, 66, is charged with three counts of lewd or lascivious molestation and one count of lewd or lascivious conduct. Pensacola News Journal.

Student enrichment: Shiloh Cuffe, a sixth-grader at Doctors Inlet Elementary School, wins the Clay County spelling bee. Florida Times-Union. Fourth- and fifth-grade boys at Forest Park Elementary School in Boynton Beach are learning manners and social and table skills in the school’s new Gentleman’s Club. Sun-Sentinel. The organizations Suits for Seniors offers suits and mentoring for 100 seniors at Atlantic Community High School. Sun-Sentinel. The Jacobs Family Foundation donates $34,500 to buy laptops for Wellington High School fine arts students. Palm Beach Post. Two Liberty Pines Academy students enter green dream house designs in the Guidance Goes Green Home Design Challenge. Aya El-Sawa, 10, and Noor El-Sawa, 8, are the only Florida students entered. St. Augustine Record.

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BY NextSteps staff