Florida schools roundup: Less money for school recognition, testing and more

Recognition money: The Florida Department of Education is handing out 36 percent less recognition money to schools this year. Last year, 1,673 schools received $134.58 million. This year, 1,226 schools are getting $85.7 million. State officials say the decline is due to the number of schools with A grades falling from 1,184 to 754. Officials attribute to decline to harder Florida Standards Assessments tests and higher standards for individual school grading. Florida Times-Union.

Testing cutbacks: Another bill is filed in the Florida Senate that would push most state-mandated testing to the end of the school year, but this one also calls for an end to five specific exams, state oversight of teacher evaluations and the rules that tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It also wants a written alternative to computers and allow districts to use national tests like the ACT or SAT instead of the 10th-grade language arts section of the Florida Standards Assessments. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, would kill the ninth-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments test and end-of-course exams in Algebra 2, civics, geometry and U.S. history. Orlando Sentinel.

House vs. feds: The Florida House Education Committee will consider a resolution Tuesday that asks Congress to “end all current, and prohibit any further, interference by the United States Department of Education with respect to public school governance.” The resolution also asks Congress to turn Title 1 funding for low-income children and IDEA Part B funding for disabled students into block grants controlled by the states. Gradebook.

Teacher evaluations: There are more than 2,800 teachers in the Manatee County School District, and only three received unsatisfactory evaluations. Two others were told they needed to improve. “Highly effective” was the evaluation 48.1 percent of the teachers received. Fifty percent were judged to be “effective” and 8 percent weren’t evaluated at all, according to Florida Department of Education statistics. Teachers with highly effective ratings in other state districts ranged from 97 percent in Okaloosa County to 6 percent in Putnam County. Teachers suggest the disparity in the numbers points to the pointlessness of the evaluation process. Bradenton Herald.

Costs vs. benefits: As Hillsborough County school officials try to cut spending, they are forced to look hard at popular but expensive programs that may not be accomplishing all that educators had hoped. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment: St. Johns County school officials say many of the parents applying for a vacancy at one of the four county schools open to transfers under the state’s new open enrollment law are from neighboring Duval County. March 10 is the deadline to apply for a transfer. St. Augustine Record.

Tax scholarships: About 37,000 south Florida families are now using the state’s tax credit scholarship program to attend private schools, a nearly fourfold increase since 2010. Statewide, the number of low-income students using the $5,886 annual scholarship totals more than 98,000. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said the tax credit scholarship program creates competition that is pushing public schools to improve. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. Sun-Sentinel.

District broadcasting: The Miami-Dade County School District, which owns the TV and radio broadcast license for WLRN, is working on a new operation agreement that would have the station’s employees working directly for the district. The district would also have the authority to decide programming and content. “How would these journalists be able to do their job independently if they’re reporting directly to the school district administration?” asks Dwight Hill, president of Sabadell United Bank and volunteer chairman of Friends of WLRN. A spokeswoman said the district has no intention of undermining the independence of WLRN or meddle in news decisions. Miami Herald.

Superintendent pay: The Palm Beach County School Board will consider a proposal that would delay a nearly $10,000 raise for School Superintendent Robert Avossa until the 2017-2018 school year. The contract also calls for automatic annual raises equal to other district administrators’, as long as Avossa get high marks on his evaluations. Avossa is paid $325,000 a year – second-highest superintendent compensation in the state. Palm Beach Post.

Superintendent search: Eighteen people have applied for the Alachua County school superintendent’s job so far. The last day to apply is March 10. The former superintendent, Owen Roberts, resigned last June after allegations that he plagiarized for his self-published book. Gainesville Sun.

Personnel changes: Lynsey Saunders is named the first public information officer for the Monroe County School District. Saunders, who was born in Key West and has been teaching at the University of Florida, will make between $63,200 to $85,200 a year. Keynoter. The Pasco County School District gets four new principals, two at middle schools and two at high schools. Gradebook. Randall Strickland is named principal at a new elementary school opening this fall in St. Johns County. And Kirstie Gabaldon is named principal of Switzerland Point Middle School. St. Augustine Record. New Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay hires Emily Weiskopf as chief of transformation and Chad Farnsworth as chief of staff. Weiskopf was Clay County director of school improvement, professional development and assessment, and Farnsworth is the former superintendent of Bradford County schools. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. Joe Rizzo is named executive director of the Flagler County Education Foundation. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendent Q&A: Polk County School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd talks about the district’s accomplishments, challenges and goals in a Q&A. Lakeland Ledger.

Future preparation: St. Johns County school officials expect to see continued enrollment growth with greater school choice, ongoing uncertainty in the amount of money the state will provide schools and more changes in testing and accountability for the 2017-2018 school year. St. Augustine Record.

District sued: A student and her parents are suing the Pinellas County School District and a classmate who badly beat her four years ago at Calvin Hunsinger School. The student, now 18, had a concussion, broken jaw and cracked eye socket after the attack. The suit claims the district did not properly supervise the attacker or protect the victim. Tampa Bay Times.

Students face charges: Five students are expected to be charged for throwing wood at President Trump’s motorcade Friday, according to Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies. One middle-schooler reportedly confessed to tossing part of a 2×4 at the motorcade, and implicated four others. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Weapons on schools: A boy brings a knife in his backpack to Coral Reef Elementary School in Lake Worth because he wanted protection in case someone tried to abduct him. The boy had heard about an attempted abduction last week in a Lake Worth neighborhood, he told school officials. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Florida legislators frequently preach about the merits of local control — except when it comes to public schools. Lawmakers regularly push new requirements that micromanage county school districts and classroom teachers. This year is no different. Tampa Bay Times. Lori White entered the office of Sarasota County school superintendent with the most valuable asset a public figure can earn: trust. And she retires with that trust intact. Tom Tryon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. I integrated Gainesville High School in 1965, and the scars endure. LaVon W. Bracy, Orlando Sentinel. A Lee County School Board vote to complete the redistricting process to move away from all at-large board seats is a vote of confidence in a more equitable future for our children. James Muwakkil, Fort Myers News-Press. Making the explosive growth of Bay County’s technology industry base sustainable will require the determination of high school students and their parents to keep building the district’s STEM curriculum. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Marisa Langley, a homeschooled 12-year-old from Leon County, wins the Big Bend regional spelling bee Saturday to earn a trip to the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., which starts May 28. Tallahassee Democrat. Sarah Wilson, a seventh-grader in Macclenny, wins the Baker County School District spelling bee. Florida Times-Union. Four Boca Raton High School students started “We Dine Together” so no student would have to eat alone. Two years later, more than 60 students participate in the movement for inclusion. Sun-Sentinel. Twenty-two seniors and juniors from Santa Rosa High School, a dropout prevention school, will attend a 24-hour program at the National Flight Academy at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Pensacola News Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff