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Florida schools roundup: Private and charter school growth, lawsuit and more

Private, charter growth: Private school enrollment is up 6.5 percent in Florida, the sixth straight year of growth, and now makes up 11.6 percent of all pre-K through 12th grade students. There are 368,321 school students at 2,663 private schools in the state, according to the annual report from the Florida Department of Education. Miami-Dade County has the most at 76,022. redefinED. Hillsborough County school officials expect 21,626 district students to attend charter schools in the next school year, an increase of about 22 percent. Charter students now make up about 10 percent of all students in Hillsborough. Gradebook.

Students sue district: Two former Miami-Dade County School District students are suing the district after they found their Social Security numbers and test scores on the district’s website. District officials call the breach an isolated incident and say a forensic review is being conducted to find out where the information came from and whether it is authentic. Miami Herald.

District hires lobbyist: The Miami-Dade County School District hire Ballard Partners to lobby for the district’s interests in Congress and several federal agencies. The contract is for three years at a rate of $108,000 a year. It’s the first time since 2008 the district has had a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who runs the district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. Miami Herald.

Charter vendor arrested: Steven J. Kunkemoeller, charged with fraud and racketeering in connection with the operation of charter schools in Florida, is arrested in Pensacola. He operated two companies that allegedly sold school materials at inflated prices to Newpoint Education Partners. Newpoint founder Marcus May, who has also been charged with fraud and racketeering, has not yet turned himself in. Gradebook. An Escambia County commissioner accuses the school district of trying to hide misconduct at the counties’ three Newpoint charter schools. Jeff Bergosh says for a year, district officials ignored complaints about grade-fixing, organized cheating and student safety issues. School officials dismiss Bergosh’s allegations. Pensacola News Journal.

Project manager: The Palm Beach County School Board approves the hiring of a company to manage the district’s building boom, at a cost of $26.4 million over 10 years. California-based AECOM would act as the program manager for the $1.4 billion the district is spending to repair old schools and build new ones. Palm Beach Post.

H.B. 7069: State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says efforts to change H.B. 7069 continue. Simmons, speaking with other legislators at a Seminole County Chamber of Commerce panel discussion, specifically criticized the “schools of hope” section of the bill, which sets up incentives to recruit charter schools into areas with persistently low-performing schools. Simmons also said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Parkland, is researching a legal challenge to the bill for violating the state’s single-subject rule. Farmer had no comment. Florida Politics.

Calculus project: Three years after the Orange County School District started the Calculus Project with a goal of getting more minority students taking calculus in high school, more than 2,500 students are enrolled. School officials say the project started by getting more 7th-graders enrolled in algebra 1, which would give them a chance to complete two Advanced Placement calculus courses by high school graduation. Orlando Sentinel.

Immigrant children: Immigrant children should be allowed to attend school in Florida while a federal lawsuit works its way through the courts, the Southern Poverty Law Center argues in a court motion. The SPLC brought suit against the Collier County School District, alleging it was illegally barring those students from schools. Southern Poverty Law Center.

Education transparency: Florida rates in the middle of the states when it comes to transparency in education, according to a recent report by the education policy and advocacy group Achieve. Florida ranked 22nd of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on how it releases educational data, its detail, timeliness and completeness. Naples Herald.

Reading literacy: Members of the business communities in Manatee and Sarasota counties express concern over the percentage of 3rd-graders who can’t read at grade level. In Manatee County, the rate is 50 percent; in Sarasota it’s 29 percent. “If you are in fourth grade (and can’t read), you are looking around the class going, ‘Uh-oh, I’m not part of it anymore. I’m out,’ ” said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of the Patterson Foundation. “And that’s a bad trajectory for your life.” Members of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance were encouraged to help. Bradenton Herald.

Student cleared: Vero Beach High School officials have rescinded the punishment levied against a student who gave a satirical speech during his campaign for senior class president. J.P. Krause had been disqualified after winning the election when a video of his speech was posted on social media. The punishment was widely reported across the country, and the Pacific Legal Foundation jumped in to write a letter to school officials warning that they had violated Krause’s free speech rights. The punishment was then withdrawn. Sunshine State News.

Contract negotiations: The city of Pembroke Pines cuts its pay raise offer to teachers in the city-run charter schools system. The city had been offering $1,000 a year. Wednesday it cut the offer to $500. The teachers want $3,000. The next negotiating session is July 12. Sun Sentinel. The United School Employees of Pasco resumes contract negotiations with the school district, but with more modest goals than it had before the state’s new education bill was signed into law. The union will focus on job security and retention of school programs instead of pay raises. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Allysa Eberst is named principal at Port Salerno Elementary in Martin County, and Jay Blavatt is hired from Tampa as principal at South Fork High School. TCPalm. Three Alachua County elementary schools are getting new principals: Heather Harbour, Alachua Elementary; Justin Russell, Littlewood Elementary; and Ashlea Zeller, Myra Terwilliger Elementary. The school board also approved the promotion of Donna Jones to deputy superintendent. Gainesville Sun.

Board member elected: Dave Miner, a member of the Manatee County School Board since 2013, is elected to the board of directors of the Florida School Boards Association. Bradenton Herald.

School buses arriving: The Palm Beach County School District receives 78 new school buses that include air-conditioning, colorful seat belts, video cameras and more wheelchair capacity. The bus purchases are being made with proceeds from the sales tax increase voters approved in November. Sun Sentinel.

Stadium for sale: The city of Lakeland is talking to the Polk County School District about the district buying Bryant Stadium, home of the Lakeland High School Dreadnaughts’ football team. Lakeland Ledger.

Civil suit considered: A former school treasurer who was accused by police of stealing more than $66,000 was never charged. But now two Palm Beach County School Board members want to file a civil suit against Cathleen Spring, who is accused of stealing the money from Bak Middle School over a three-year period. The state attorney’s office declined to prosecute, saying the case against Spring amounted to “circumstantial evidence.” Palm Beach Post.

Teacher’s license suspended: The Florida Education Practices Commission suspends the teaching license of Jonathan Blikstad, a math teacher at East Lee High School, for six months after being accused of kissing a student. WINK.

Teacher arrested: A special education teacher at Jesse Keen Elementary School in Lakeland is arrested for cocaine possession. Police say Stacie Long, 41, was arrested when they found the drugs during an investigation of domestic abuse against her husband. Lakeland Ledger.

Preschool worker arrested: A St. Petersburg preschool worker is arrested and accused of felony child abuse. Police say Linda Faye Williams, 58, used “excessive force” to restrain two 1-year-old girls. She has been fired. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT.

Opinions on schools: It is certainly true not all charter operations in Florida are as hinky as the Newpoint Education Partners experience. But the fraud and racketeering allegations against the founder and his colleague serve as a cautionary tale about the shortcomings of Tallahassee’s misguided love affair with charter schools. Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times. House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s actions in the past legislative session, especially with the education bill, shows the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature no longer believes the basic Republican value that government closest to the people works best. Sun Sentinel. The Hillsborough County school staff and board are light on solutions and heavy on public relations when it comes to the district’s financial crisis, and they’ll need to get more serious about it in the weeks ahead. Tampa Bay Times. Third-graders build character by giving back to the community. Ana Le, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: A team of 4th- and 5th-graders at Seacrest Country Day School in Naples are in Washington this week for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Lego League Global Innovation Award competition. The team, called the Blue Rays, came up with an idea for protecting bees from aerial mosquito spraying. Naples Daily News. Flagler County students develop character and improve reading skills at a six-week Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program put on by Bethune-Cookman University students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff