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Florida schools roundup: Capital funding, budget cuts, testing and more

Capital funding for schools: A bill that would allow school districts to raise local tax rates for construction and maintenance also would require those districts to share the money with charter schools. Now, Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says if the bill passes, “there won’t be a need” for the state to provide money for capital funding. This year, that amount was $150 million. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. redefinED. WFSU.

Education budget cuts: Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, releases a list of $46.3 million in cuts to education as “a starting point for our budget discussions.” The largest cuts are $14 million from the program for school uniforms, $13.95 million from teacher bonuses and $7 million from administrator professional development. Meanwhile, the Florida House identifies $485 million in education budget cuts in an exercise to meet Speaker Richard Corcoran’s call to trim $2 billion from the state budget.  Gradebook. Naples Daily News.

Testing bill: A bipartisan group of Florida state senators are urging the state to make a “common sense” decision to cut back on testing. Their bill would eliminate some tests, move the testing dates to the end of the school year and allow districts to give paper-and-pencil exams instead of online, among other things. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Personalized learning: An expansion of personalized learning in schools is being considered by the Legislature, even though one of the counties that uses it now has concerns about its effectiveness. Lake County has the program in 13 schools, and reports mixed success. “I don’t believe we fix problems by putting in programs,” says new Lake County Superintendent Diane Kornegay. “We have places where it’s working really well. We have places where it’s not working.” Seminole County will introduce the first phase of the program in August. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers union bill: Teachers union officials are criticizing a bill that would force them to have at least half the eligible school district employees as members or face the loss of their union certification. The bill excludes unions representing police, fire and correctional officers. “There’s absolutely no doubt it’s aimed at us, and it’s aimed at taking away teachers’ constitutional right to collective bargaining,” said Renna Lee Paiva, president of the Clay County teachers union. Clay Today.

Employees honored: Nicholas Leduc, a fourth-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary, is named the Manatee County School District’s teacher of the year. Michael Brackman, an English for speakers of other languages aide at Johnson Middle School, is named support employee of the year. Bradenton Herald.

Teaching incentives: The Bay County School District is making bonus money available to hire teachers who have specific subject experience but not formal education degrees. WJHG.

School start times: The Hillsborough County School District is expected to change school start times for thousands of students as a way to save money and give bus drivers more time to arrive to school when they’re scheduled. Tampa Bay Times. The Okaloosa County School District is considering later start times for high schools. A committee examining the proposal meets March 23 to consider research that shows high school students perform better academically if school starts later in the day. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School calendar: The Flagler County School District finally has a 2017-2018 school calendar to take to the school board. The district considered a 179-day calendar with slightly longer school days, but tabled it after parents complained. So the district went back to the 180-day school year with no change in school start times. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Union chief’s raise: Vicki Hall, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1184, was given a 60 percent pay raise by the Miami-Dade School District just before the school board approved a contract to outsource lawn maintenance work that had been done by union members. The vice president of the union questions the deal, saying it will cost the union jobs. Hall, who drives a school bus, declined to comment. Florida Bulldog.

Comments now challenged: Pasco County school officials say they are tired of people spreading false information during the comments period at school board meetings, and are starting to rebut those arguments. “From this day forward, we will challenge and we will correct any misinformation that is stated from the podium,” says Superintendent Kurt Browning. Gradebook.

School levy approved: Gulf County voters approve a renewal of the 1-mill operational levy for the Gulf County School District. Only 11 percent of the county’s voters cast ballots, and the levy was approved by 70 percent of them. Port St. Joe Star.

District cutbacks: The Clay County School Board cuts $1.5 million out of its budget by eliminating three licensed practical nurse positions, five technology positions and at least seven media specialist positions. Clay Today.

Lottery and education: While the Florida Lottery boasts it has provided $30 billion for Florida education over the past three decades, that money has simply replaced other state funding for education instead of providing “improvements” as it promised to voters in 1986. Before the Lottery began, the state provided 62 percent of the funding for schools. Today, it’s 51 percent. TCPalm.

Policy change: The Hillsborough County School Board’s new policy on schools with special needs – called Elevate schools – no longer allows Superintendent Jeff Eakins to assign teachers to them without their approval. The union had pushed for that change. Gradebook.

Charter terminated: The Manatee County School District won’t renew its contract with the Manatee Charter School, citing the school’s declining test scores, poor record-keeping and “chaotic” learning atmosphere. Officials at the 700-student K-8 charter school say they were given no notice, and that the district has not followed the legal process for termination. Bradenton Herald.

School expansion: Pepin Academies expands its Riverview campus and now houses nearly 1,000 students from 3rd to 12th grades. The school serves students with learning disabilities. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel changes: Elizabeth Agresta, chief academic officer of the Hillsborough County Public Schools, resigns for what the district called “personal reasons.” She joined the district in 2016. Gradebook. The Brevard County School Board decides to move forward with hiring an in-house attorney for the first time in 22 years. The board will interview seven candidates for the position, which will pay between $145,000 and $160,000. Florida Today. Victory Christian Academy officials are not renewing the contract of football coach Tommy Lewis, whose team won a state championship in 2014 and was a semifinalist the past two seasons. No reason was given. Lakeland Ledger. Zak Leonard, a teacher who coaches struggling Lecanto Middle School students, is named administrator of the Academy of Environmental Science. He replaces Sandy Balfour, who was removed during an investigation into her use of discipline. Citrus County Chronicle.

Bathroom crackdown: Kate Sullivan Elementary School principal Michael Bryan says he is is tired of students trashing the school bathrooms. So he’s instituting classroom bathroom breaks with teachers standing in the hallways nearby to monitor behavior. Tallahassee Democrat.

District test scores: Bay County School District students continue to beat the state averages in performance on the SAT and ACT tests, school officials say. In 2016, more than 1,000 district students took the ACT, and the average score of 20.9 was a full point higher than the state’s average. Panama City News Herald.

District wins suit: A federal court jury rules that the Gulf County School District did not violate anti-discrimination or anti-retaliation laws when it fired Jeremy Knapp, former principal at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School. Port St. Joe Star.

Teacher sues district: Former Saint Andrew’s School teacher Christopher Waite is suing the school, claiming that the school falsely accused him of sexual misconduct. Waite was pushed out of his job in October 2015 after questions were raised about his relationships with three of the boarding school’s students. Palm Beach Post.

Students arrested: An 18-year-old sophomore at Westwood High School in St. Lucie County is arrested and accused of bringing guns and drugs onto the campus. Eric Ronald San Nicolas had five guns, including an assault rifle, and a pellet gun in the trunk of his car. TCPalm. Two Newsome High School students are arrested and accused of plotting to bomb the school. WFLA.

Opinions on schools. Criticism of the Collier County School District doesn’t add up. Henry R. Przystup, Naples Daily News. While there may be the occasional glitch where a teacher or school administrator crosses the line, there is no evidence Florida public schools are hotbeds of religious intolerance. So why do we need a “religious liberties” bill? Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Poinciana Elementary School’s STEM TAZBots team is heading to Houston next week for the Lego League’s World Festival. The team of fourth- and fifth-graders from the Boynton Beach school won a regional tournament in February. Palm Beach Post. Students are learning how to make arrests, shoot guns and take fingerprints at Fivay High School’s Criminal Justice Academy. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff