Florida schools roundup: Funding fears, board elections, panel meets and more

Funding fears: While school officials applaud voters for approving 18 ballot measures in August and November to help pay for expenses at schools, some fear that those approvals will embolden the Legislature to cut back funding and lean more on local tax efforts. That could lead to funding disparities based on where students live. “It’s a grave concern,” says Andrea Messina, head of the Florida School Boards Association. “The more we rely on local dollars to provide for educational needs, the greater the disparity could be.” Gradebook.

School board elections: When the Florida Constitution Revision Commission proposed an amendment that would have imposed term limits on school board members, critics said it was unnecessary because of natural turnover. The Florida Supreme Court removed the amendment from the budget to make the argument moot. So how did the elections turn out? Across the state, 290 school board seats were open. Fifty-nine incumbents chose not to seek re-election. Eighteen incumbents who did run lost in the August primary, and seven more lost in the general election. Meanwhile, 73 incumbents and 53 newcomers were elected to boards without drawing opponents. Gradebook.

Shooting commission: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meets Tuesday through Friday this week, and former school deputy Scot Peterson may testify. The group’s final report is due Jan. 1. Politico Florida. A classmate of accused Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz says she told school officials about a year before the massacre that Cruz had warned her boyfriend that he was going to shoot up the school. The girl passed the threat to school officials, and she says he was expelled. School officials would not comment on the report, citing student privacy concerns. Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed, says it was consistent with other warning signs to the district and law enforcement officials. “It’s unbelievable … I always say this was a preventable act of violence. Every step of the way, somebody failed,” Guttenberg says. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. News that Cruz registered to vote from jail, as a Republican on July 25, outrages a parent of one of the Feb. 14 victims. Sun-Sentinel.

Troubled software project: The Manatee County School Board will consider two more agreements this week in the latest development with the well-over-budget and late business software project. One would widen the responsibilities for a vendor and increase its annual fee from $395,000 to $850,000, and the other is to implement a nodule for $163,000 that two district administrators approved for $326,000, in violation of district policy that requires board approval for any expense over $50,000. Those administrators’ action are being investigated, and both are leaving the district. The project manager also was suspended and has agreed to leave the district. The project was projected to cost $9.8 million, but has ballooned past $27 million. Bradenton Herald.

Help for struggling schools: Four struggling Duval County elementary schools are among those to receive Schools of Hope grants from the state. Rutledge Pearson, Hyde Park, Long Branch and Susie Tolbert will split a total of $2.4 million over two years for programs designed to improve parental involvement and boost student achievement. Among them: adding to the curriculum, after-school programs, classes for parents, hiring a coordinator to work on students attendance, and bonuses for teachers to cut down on turnover. Florida Times-Union.

Standardized testing: While Palm Beach County School Superintendent Donald Fennoy says there is too much testing in public schools and that the state “has manipulated tests in a way that I don’t like,” he also acknowledges during an Urban League luncheon that testing is a way of life and even necessary for advancement in many careers. Palm Beach Post.

School expansion considered: The Sarasota County School District is considering expanding Venice High School to accommodate another 400 students. The school is over capacity by 65 students, at 2,165, and the district expects more students over the next few years. The plan is to build a new wing at a cost of about $10 million, which could open in three years. Seven public meetings are scheduled to discuss the proposal. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Board member signs off: After 28 tears as a Pinellas County School Board member, Linda Lerner steps down after Tuesday’s meeting. Lerner, 75, did not run for re-election. But she won’t be retiring. She will keep her spot on the Pinellas Education Foundation’s Stavros Career Education Committee, which boosts technical and job-focused programs for Pinellas students. “I was an advocate before on the outside, and I will be again,” she says. Gradebook.

School bus driver arrested: A Pinellas County school bus driver is arrested and accused of sexually battery against a girl when she was 13. Ernest Williams, 61, is charged with one count each of sexual battery, attempted sexual battery and lewd and lascivious conduct and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. Deputies say Williams did not know the girl through his bus driving job. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: After two decades of Florida politicians tinkering with education, state students’ SAT scores continue to lag behind those from comparable states. Which means Florida politicians are still failing. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Escambia County will soon join the vast majority of communities throughout the country in hiring its superintendent. It won’t be a cure-all for our struggling school system, but the new system comes with major potential. Pensacola News Journal. Now that Lee County voters have approved a sales tax increase, the school district must put together an oversight committee, be financially transparent in its spending, carefully explain its construction methodology, and work quickly to rebuild Franklin Park Elementary and Cypress Lake Middle schools. Fort Myers News-Press. At a time when Florida’s educational policies are increasingly focused on the role of parents as educational deciders, the importance of parents in preparing their children for economically secure careers is often overlooked. It’s time to change that. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. An Educational Ecosystem has been designed to ensure that everyone, from all income levels, communities and backgrounds is familiar with educational opportunities in Pinellas County — especially opportunities in higher education — and how to access them. Tonjua Williams, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Members of William T. Dwyer and Jupiter high schools’ Students Against Melanoma clubs join forces to get a sunscreen dispenser at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. Palm Beach Post. Fort Myers Bishop Verot High School senior Claire Sattler finishes second in the annual Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, but still has a chance to advance to the semifinals. Fort Myers News-Press. Construction students from Leesburg High School help Habitat for Humanity fix up three homes in Yalaha. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff