Florida schools roundup: School safety, budget, new superintendent and more

School safety bill: After a second straight day of eight-hour debates, the Florida House approves the school safety bill by a 67-50 margin. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would review it line-by-line and talk to families of the Parkland shooting before deciding whether to sign it. The bill provides $67 million for a program to train and arm select school employees who volunteer for the duty, requires a three-day waiting period to purchase guns and hikes the legal age limit to buy rifles from 18 to 21. It also sets aside $300 million for mental health services and security programs in schools, and $26 million for tearing down the building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shooting took place, and building a memorial on the site. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida. Palm Beach Post. GateHouse. Officials in 10 of the largest school districts in Florida say that even if Scott signs this bill, they are not likely to take part in the program to train and arm school personnel. Tampa Bay Times. A cursory review of state records shows at least 19 times that school workers who could be armed under this bill have threatened or hurt students or used firearms illegally. In 13 of those cases, the workers threatened to shoot students. Tampa Bay Times. The Haines City Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol will provide officers for every school in Haines City through the end of the school year. Lakeland Ledger.

Budget deal: The House and Senate reach an agreement on an $87 billion state budget that boosts spending for education and school safety. The last hurdle to the deal was the Senate agreeing to adopt the House’s formula to reimbursing hospitals for Medicaid expenses. The final vote on the budget is expected Sunday or Monday, since the law requires 72 hours between an agreement and a vote to give legislators a chance to read the bill. The Legislature had been scheduled to conclude Friday. News Service of FloridaSarasota Herald-Tribune. Miami Herald. Associated Press. The deal also adds $25 million to provide Gardiner scholarships to more children with special needs. There are about 1,300 children on the waiting list. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. The state’s K-12 schools will get $120 million in construction money for charter schools and $50 million for district schools under the budget agreement. Politico Florida.

New superintendent: Donald Fennoy is named superintendent of the Palm Beach County School District. The school board chose Fennoy, 41, the district’s chief operating officer since May 2016, over two other candidates to succeed Robert Avossa, who is leaving in June to take a job with an educational materials publishing company. The district is the 11th largest in the country with 190,000 students, and has 25,000 employees. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Shooting developments: School shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is indicted by a Broward County grand jury on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Cruz, 19, could be sentenced to death if convicted. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Texts on the day of the shooting between Cruz and the son of the family that took Cruz in are released. Palm Beach Post. Names of the wounded are released. Sun-Sentinel. Two Miramar SWAT team members are suspended for running toward the shooting site on Feb. 14 without authorization. Sun-Sentinel.

DeVos visits school: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos meets with students and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, and advocates training and arming school workers. DeVos said the students told her they are coping day-to-day, and called her visit “sobering and very inspiring.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami HeraldWashington Post. Associated Press. Politico Florida. The 74. Pro basketball player Dwyane Wade also visits Stoneman Douglas High on Wednesday, and gets a noticeably warmer reception than DeVos. Sun-Sentinel.

Employees honored: Heather Anderson, an English teacher at King Middle School, is named the Manatee County School District’s teacher of the year. Marie Mueller, a lab manager at Oneco Elementary School, is named the top support employee. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota-Herald-Tribune. Angie Ingraham-Rolle, assistant to the principal at Congress Middle School in Boynton Beach, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Palm Beach Post. Eight Florida teachers are presented with Governor’s Shine Awards for their significant contributions to education. WJXT.

Financial literacy: A Senate bill that would require students to take a financial literacy course to graduate is diluted by the House in order to attract enough votes for passage. The course will now be an option, not a requirement. The sponsor, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, has been trying to get the bill passed for five years, and is unhappy with the House’s changes. Tampa Bay Times.

Florida education rankings: Florida ranks 40th in the nation for the quality of its preK-12 schools but first in higher education, according to the annual rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Superintendent search: Leaders of the Jacksonville Civic Council, an influential business organization, complain to Duval County School Board members that they haven’t been given enough time to offer input on the selection of a new school superintendent, and that the selection process has been rushed. Board chairwoman Paula Wright says there has been plenty of time for input, and that the board wants to stay on schedule to have a new superintendent hired this summer. The previous superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, left for a job in Detroit last summer. Florida Times-Union.

School finances: Duval County School Board members hope the potential sale of the community-owned utility company, JEA, will result in more tax revenues that the district could use to repair and replace aging schools. Florida Times-Union.

Charter schools: The contracts of 12 charter schools in Duval County are extended by reluctant school board members. They complain that several of the schools are low-performers and that money needed for repairs will instead go to the charters as required by state law, but that they have limited oversight of the schools. Florida Times-Union.

Rezoning fight: Parents of west Pasco County students didn’t like the proposed school boundaries the first time they were drawn, and successfully fought them in court. Now they’re challenging the revised plans, and want to slow down the process. Gradebook.

Photo protested: A photo of a Miami Catholic school student wearing blackface to portray former Secretary of State Colin Powell for Black History Month is criticized by alumni and removed from the St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School website and social media. Miami Herald.

School bus plans reconsidered: Martin County School Board members are balking over a previous decision to provide busing to students living within 2 miles of their schools after hearing it will cost the district $6 million next school year. TCPalm.

Personnel moves: Karin Schmidt, principal of Venice Middle School, is retiring March 23. Sarasota County School District spokeswoman Tracey Beeker did not give a reason for Schmidt’s decision. A former administrator will fill in through the end of the school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School board elections: Pamela Gavette, a substitute teacher from Venice, is running for the District 5 seat on the Sarasota County School Board. Jane Goodwin holds the seat, and is running for re-election. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Nicholas Lahera, an 18-year-old Lecanto High School student, is running for the District 5 seat on the Citrus County School Board. He’s the fourth person in the race. Citrus County Chronicle.

Altercation investigation: Bradenton police will investigate a complaint filed by Manatee County School Board chairman Scott Hopes against fellow board member Dave Miner. Hopes alleges that Miner threatened him with his car after a board meeting Feb. 27. Miner denies the charge. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

Grand jury report delayed: The release of a grand jury report into the actions of the Okaloosa County School District is delayed after one person named in the report questioned its findings and asked that some information be withheld. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Employee suspensions: A Kernan Middle School teacher is suspended for 10 days for allegedly using the N-word in front of students. A Duval County School District investigator says David Swinyar also swore at his students, called them dumb, and told some, “You should not be dating all these different African-American boys because they are not worth it.” Florida Times-Union. WJAX. The Hernando County School Board upholds the suspension of a Spring Hill Elementary paraprofessional accused of sexual harassment. Ricky Yepez, 49, served the suspension in December and January but filed an appeal. Tampa Bay Times.

School threats: Almost 650 threats were made to schools across the United States in less than two weeks after the Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14, according to a review of law enforcement reports. Texas had the most, with 55, followed by Ohio with 47, California with 37 and Florida with 35. USA Today. Twenty-three students from Volusia and Flagler have been arrested for making threats since the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. A custodian employed by a cleaning company working at a Tampa private school is arrested after allegedly threatening to “shoot up” the school. Aniya L. Smalls, 23, had just been fired by the company when she made the threat against Academy of the Holy Names, say police and school officials. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Rick Scott should veto the school safety bill, call the Legislature into special session later this month and insist on a more vigorous approach. Tampa Bay Times. The school safety legislation nibbles around the edges of enhancing school safety while ignoring the root cause of the murders of 17 students last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland – easy access to weapons of war. Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times. I do not doubt that many of those who support the idea of arming school employees believe it’s the right thing to do. But sincere or not, the idea needs to be shouted down. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. The slow but steady privatization of Florida’s public schools continued this week with the Legislature’s approval of an education bill that funnels millions more tax dollars to private schools while public schools struggle to pay for everything from teachers to textbooks to technology. Ocala Star-Banner. Our teachers work hard to make a difference. Join me in thanking them today. Jimbo Jackson, Tallahassee Democrat.

Student enrichment: Volunteers from the community group Love Brevard are revamping the 60-year-old University Park Elementary School in Melbourne with paint, landscaping, books for students to take home and more. Florida Today.

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BY NextSteps staff