Florida schools roundup: Teacher shortages, spending, recess and more

Teachers needed: Just days before the school year begins, school districts in west-central Florida still need hundreds of teachers. Hillsborough County has the most openings, 205. Pasco needs 128, Polk more than 110 and Sarasota, Hernando and Citrus counties are also hiring. Pinellas County has just seven jobs left to fill. “You have 67 public school districts in Florida, so we’re all competing for that same small group of students that are graduating from Florida universities and colleges,” says Teddra Porteous, assistant superintendent in Polk County. WFTS. WTSP. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Spending analysis: The Duval County School Board delays an outside audit of the district’s spending, opting first to have the board auditor and district staff do an analysis of how the district spent $21 million more than it was budgeted to last year. Two state representatives had asked for an audit, which board members rejected. Now those members are saying they will likely have an outside audit done after the spending analysis. Board chairwoman Paula Wright says the first analysis should be able to narrow the focus of the second, which should lower its cost. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: Elementary students in Pasco will get their 20 minutes of free, unstructured recess every day. The district’s new student progression plan calls for “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 so that there are at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day,” according to the plan. Decisions on how to make that happen will be made by each school’s principal. Gradebook.

English-language learning: U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., is proposing legislation that would change how the federal government funds English-language learning education. Murphy says the current law doesn’t “adequately account for the number of school-aged children and youth that have relocated to Florida and other states from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.” The state now gets more than $40 million a year from the federal government for English-language learning programs. Sunshine State News. Teachers at a Jewish preschool in Coral Gables will be teaching and talking in Spanish with children 18 to 35 months old this school year. Rachel Delgado, who is in the parents association at Margaux Early Childhood School, says the immersion has educational and practical benefits for students now and later on in life. Miami Herald.

More H.B. 7069 texts: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart mocked a charter school’s test scores claims in a text to a member of her staff. Stewart said that Gary Chartrand, an official at the Jacksonville charter school chain KIPP and a campaign donor to Republicans, had been bragging that 41 percent of the 3rd graders at the KIPP VOICE Elementary School passed the state’s standardized reading test. The actual number was 35 percent. Neither Chartrand nor the Department of Education would comment. Politico Florida.

School budgets: Higher property values are pushing the Manatee County School District budget up 8 percent this year, to $781.7 million, according to chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts. “The 8 percent property value increase year over year is not sustainable, so that makes the increase in revenue in this budget atypical,” she said. “I believe that Manatee is first or second largest property value increase in the state.” The Manatee County School Board also unanimously approves North River High School as the name for the new school in Parrish that’s scheduled to open in 2019. Bradenton Herald.

Superintendent searches: The Duval County School Board will begin putting together a list of the characteristics it wants in a new superintendent. The board will take advice from other organizations before it officially takes up the search Aug. 28. Duval has had an interim superintendent, Patricia Willis, since Nikolai Vitti resigned in May to run the schools in Detroit. WJCT. Unhappy with the three finalists for the superintendent job, members of the Cape Coral Charter School Authority decide to reopen the search. Lehigh Acres Citizen.

School out of scholarship programs: Agape Christian Academy, a private school in Pine Hills, is kicked out of the state’s scholarship programs for allegedly violating state requirements. The school can no longer receive money under the tax credit scholarship, Gardiner or McKay scholarship programs, and Agape’s director, principal and any school with the majority of the same board members or employees can’t get money from any of the programs for 10 years. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Homework lives here: Homework may be banned for elementary students in Marion County, but it’s alive and well in Manatee. Superintendent Diana Greene says the decision to assign homework will continue to rest with teachers. School board member Charlie Kennedy had asked Greene to consider following Marion’s lead. Bradenton Herald.

Charter schools stay open: A new Titusville charter school will open this week after passing several inspections and meeting the requirements of the Brevard County School District. Various delays threatened the opening of the Legacy Academy Charter School, but school officials were able to satisfy officials from several government agencies and got the approval to open as planned. About 200 pre-K through 6th grade students are expected to attend. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. The Marion County School Board rejects a final plea from Superintendent Heidi Maier to close the Francis Marion Military Academy. The board has given the school a year to improve its academic performance or face closure. Ocala Star-Banner.

Charter school closes: The Pivot Charter School in Fort Myers is closing due to financial problems and low enrollment, leaving almost 100 students without a school two days before they were to start. Fort Myers News-Press.

After-school programs: The Jacksonville City Council approves spending $1.1 million for after-school programs at nine sites, but declined to approve a council member’s bid to add programs at 20 other sites. The money allows the acceptance of an additional 720 children into the programs, bringing the total to 6,460 at 58 sites across the city. Florida Times-Union.

School, church trade: A church will give Fort Lauderdale High School a $251,000 sound system in exchange for use of the auditorium every Sunday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. for three years. Jacksonville-based Celebration Church’s offer was accepted by the Broward County School Board. The school will keep the equipment when the agreement ends. Sun-Sentinel.

Technical education: Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam touts the benefits of technical education during a stop at Sarasota Booker High School. “When you look at the needs of the 21st century economy, we have to do more to put career and technical education back into middle school and high school to prepare our kids to compete in a world economy and win,” Putnam said. He also said H.B. 7069 was “a bridge too far” that “should have gone back to the drawing board.” Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Eclipse schedules: High school students in Leon County will be released from school before the solar eclipse Aug. 21, but students in middle and elementary schools will be kept in school until the event concludes. The eclipse is projected to begin at 2:42 p.m and end at 4:07 p.m.. High schools will release at 12:50, elementaries at 3:30 and middle schools at 4:10. Tallahassee Democrat.

Virtual school turns 20: Florida Virtual School, the oldest online school in the country, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. When it started in 1997 as Florida High School, it had six teachers and delivered six courses. Today, the school has 1,400 certified instructors and offers 150 courses. T.H.E. Journal.

District’s new app: A new school district mobile app will allow Sarasota County parents to track their students’ grades, attendance, lunch menus and more. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Unhappiest school: Jerry Thomas Elementary in Jupiter received an A grade from the state, but is the unhappiest school in Palm Beach County, according to a survey of teachers and employees by the district. Those responding to the survey pointed to ongoing staff problems with the principal, who has since resigned, and the assistant principal, who was transferred to the district office. Palm Beach Post.

Child dies at day care: An Orlando 3-year-old dies after being left in a day-care van at the end of the Little Miracles Academy day-care. Police say Myles Hill was in the van all day and wasn’t found until Monday night. The van driver will face criminal charges. Orlando SentinelAssociated Press.

Opinions on schools: Challenges remain for Lee County schools, but gains are being made in the classroom despite capital and per-student funding deficiencies and a Legislature that seems disinterested in addressing those needs. Naples Daily News. How does a teacher design the classroom experience for each child so that they are still enjoying being in school up to and including the month of May? Bill Hoatson, Tallahassee Democrat. School start-up season means it’s also school budget and property tax-setting season. And school budget and property tax-season mean it’s time to complain about the Florida’s district cost differential. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. High school students who decide not to take physics or who exit the standard math pipeline are all but giving up on their chances of being successful in STEM fields at the college level. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: The Emil Buehler Planetarium is giving 50 sets of solar eclipse glasses for every school in Seminole County. The eclipse happens in the afternoon of Aug. 21. WKMG. The Santa Rosa School District and the Santa Rosa Kids House are collaborating on a safety program against abuse. Santa Rosa Press-Gazette. Hillsborough County public libraries are granting borrowing access to every public school student in the county. Gradebook.

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BY NextSteps staff