Florida schools roundup: What’s new next year, tax hike, D.A.R.E. and more

What’s new next year: The new school year will bring changes to schools in Florida, from kindergarten to college. Among them: 20 minutes of required recess every day for elementary students, an end to the algebra 2 end-of-course exam, some standardized tests done on paper instead of computers and conducted later in the school year, more money and flexibility with Bright Futures scholarships, no required career class in middle schools, students will be permitted to bring sunscreen to school, and student-athletes will have an easier time opting out of physical education classes. Sun Sentinel. Bright Futures scholarships winners will get $6,000 this year instead of $3,000, plus $300 for books each semester and money for summer school. It’s just for this year, though, since Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the higher education bill that would have made the changes permanent. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax hike for charters: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district may have to ask voters for a tax hike to cover the $750,000-$800,000 in construction funds that now will go to charter schools under the provisions of H.B. 7069. “We may end up going to voters about increasing (sales tax) a half penny so that we can continue to build schools when needed and renovate those in need of repair,” said Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Restarting D.A.R.E.: Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell wants to restart the D.A.R.E. anti-drug education program for 5th-graders in county schools in the 2018-2019 school year. The Drug Awareness Resistance Education ended in Lake schools in 2013 because of budget problems, and after studies showed it had little impact on students. But Grinnell says the program has evolved to include life skills, conflict resolution and making good choices. Orlando Sentinel.

Guns at schools: Duval County School Board member Scott Shine says parents should be held accountable when their children take guns to schools. “These are not kids who went out looking for a gun to do something,” Shine says. “These are kids who found a gun or it came to them. … People are all worked up about guns in schools but, quite frankly, parents are just leaving their guns laying around.” Florida Times-Union.

Turnaround schools: Polk County School District officials are nervous but cautiously optimistic about school grades for five turnaround middle schools. Grades will be announced later this month or in July. The five middle schools have gotten grades of D or F in consecutive years, and could face closure if they don’t improve to a C grade or higher. Lakeland Ledger.

Financial problems: School superintendents in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties say the money provided by the Legislature for the 2017-2018 school year is inadequate to meet the needs of the growing school districts. “It tightens the budget and reduces services to students, and that’s just the bottom line unfortunately,” says Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. “It’s going to be a tight budget year for us, so we planned for that,” says Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “We’ve cut our departmental budgets by 5 percent.” Pensacola News Journal.

Education plan: Getting Liberty City parents involved in their children’s education is the goal of the We Rise Education Village, a coordinated effort of the Urban League of Greater Miami and community institutions that include the Miami-Dade School District. The groups will offer workshops for parents and support services for children who attend the 13 schools in Liberty City. The plan also includes cleaning up the neighborhood and building affordable housing. Miami Herald.

Pool repair costs soar: When the Stranahan High School swimming pool was closed for repairs in 2014, school workers said it could be fixed for $250,000 and be completed by November. Then they discovered the problems were worse than expected, and hired contractors. The cost estimate jumped to $583,400, and the work was expected to be done in June 2016. Now school officials are told the repairs will cost $1.47 million. The school board votes this week on allocating the money. Sun Sentinel.

Sidewalks for school: The Florida Department of Transportation will spend $734,000 for more sidewalks around Manatee Elementary School as part of its Safe Route to Schools program – but the project isn’t scheduled until 2023. Bradenton Herald.

Survey, but no comments: The annual Sarasota County school climate survey did not contain a comments section for the first time in its 10-year history. It was removed by Superintendent Todd Bowden. “There was nothing actionable about them.” he says. “You want to be able to follow up, but you can’t when things are anonymous.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Educators honored: In her first year as assistant principal at the James Stephens International Academy in Fort Myers, Kelly Stedman is named the state’s assistant principal of the year. She wins $2,500 from the state Department of Education. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Department of Education. Marlene Straughan, an assistant principal at Mount Dora High School, wins $1,000 as a finalist for the state’s assistant principal of the year award. Orlando Sentinel.

Helping NASA, PBS: A math and science teacher at Brown-Barge Middle School in Pensacola is one of 50 U.S. teachers chosen to help NASA and PBS create a new science curriculum. Sara Barcellona’s students will receive lessons from PBS, with science data provided by NASA, and provide feedback. Pensacola News Journal.

Charter school extension: The Volusia County School Board is expected to approve a contract extension this week for the Burns Science and Technology Charter School in Oak Hill. The K-8 school has been designated as a “high-performing” school by the state, which qualifies it for a 15-year contract. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Board’s new leader: Alachua County School Board member April Griffin is chosen as the new president of the Florida School Boards Association. The group represents a majority of the state’s 67 school boards. Gradebook.

Notable deaths: The Rev. Eugene Finemore Broxton, a longtime educator and pastor in the Ocala area, dies at the age of 89. Broxton taught at Ocala’s Howard High School, then moved into administration. His last position was principal at Fessenden High School from 1963-1984. Ocala Star Banner.

School board being sued: A Tallahassee woman is suing the Leon County School Board for injuries she and her 14-year-old son suffered when their car collided with a school bus in 2014. Violet Griffin claims the bus driver was driving dangerously. Tallahassee Democrat.

Ex-treasurer arrested: The former treasurer at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach is arrested and accused of forgery and official misconduct. Cathleen Spring, 53, had previously been suspected of stealing $66,000 from the school, but prosecutors declined to press charges. This arrest accuses Spring of forging her principal’s signature on two checks in 2014 and 2015. Palm Beach Post.

Ex-employee pleads guilty: A former employee at the Miami Country Day School pleads guilty to a child pornography charge. Jonathan Rivas admitted to a count of child pornography distribution, and could get 5 to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced July 12. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Incentives for charter schools can lead to numerous bad acts, including engaging in conflicts of interest or cherry picking students. Where is the regulatory function that could intervene in these cases and ensure public tax money is being appropriately spent? Jeff Bryant, Common Dreams. Law enforcement is holding Marcus May accountable for his alleged excesses in running the charter schools company Newpoint Education Partners. We ought to do the same to any government or school district officials who let it happen. Pensacola News Journal. The state’s growing support for charter schools must not outpace efforts to hold them accountable for the tax dollars they receive. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Oversight isn’t a strong suit of charter schools. So why would lawmakers rather spend millions on charter schools to compete with struggling public schools rather than strengthening them? St. Augustine Record. Conducting a financial risk assessment evaluation is the right decision for the Collier County School Board. Naples Daily News.

Student enrichment: Children in south Florida will be able to get 100,000 free books from four vending machines in Broward County, starting Tuesday. The partnership between JetBlue and Random House Children’s Books puts the machines in areas where children have little or no opportunity to buy age-appropriate books. Associated Press. Leon County High School junior Kiara Thompson is named the outstanding entry from Florida in the National History Day contest. She also won honorable mention for her performance in her project, “Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution.” Tallahassee Democrat. More than 30 middle and high school students conduct tests on water samples, look at plankton under microscopes and develop underwater robots during the PUSH/SUCCESS science camp at New College in Sarasota. Bradenton Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff