Florida schools roundup: School shooting tips, ex-charter owner sentenced and more

Missed warning signs: More than 30 people knew of disturbing and threatening behavior by accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz but didn’t report it until after the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Two students who did try to report what they knew were brushed off by school officials, according to testimony Tuesday. Another tip failed to prompt action from the FBI, which led parents of one slain student to file suit Tuesday against the agency. The commission’s hearings continue through Friday. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Ex-charter owner sentenced: A former Florida charter schools owner is sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $5 million for racketeering and organized fraud. Marcus May, who owned 15 Newpoint Education Partners charter schools in Escambia, Bay, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, was found guilty by an Escambia jury in October of colluding with a vendor to sell materials to the schools for as much as triple the market rate, then splitting the profits. Pensacola News Journal. WKRG. Tampa Bay Times.

Recount update: Twenty-five of Florida’s 67 counties have finished their voting recounts, and little change is being reported in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner. Counties were given until Thursday afternoon to conclude the recounts, though several candidates are turning to the courts for help. A request for an extension for Palm Beach County was approved but is now being reconsidered by a federal judge. News Service of Florida.

School security: Duval County school officials want to spend nearly $4 million buying 44  portable walk-through metal detectors, or at least two for each high school. The detectors would be used as needed to deal with significant threats. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. School shootings have spawned fear and anxiety in Florida and across the United States, and also a booming $2.7 billion business for companies that deal in security at schools. But little research has been done to determine what safety measures work. Washington Post.

No extra pay: The Broward County School District will stop paying some high-level administrators extra based on working a 40-hour week instead of 37.5 hours. That practice boosted the pay of 15 district administrators by almost 7 percent, in some cases putting them over the maximum pay for the position. Superintendent Robert Runcie says administrators will no longer be paid for the extra 2.5 hours. “We shouldn’t even consider whether they are 7.5- or 8-hour employees,” Runcie says. “At these senior levels, the expectation is you work and you do whatever it takes to get the job done.” Sun-Sentinel.

Raise for superintendent: Polk County School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd gets a $10,500 raise and a five-year extension of her contract after a glowing evaluation from the school board. Byrd’s salary jumps from $227,500 to $238,000. Lakeland Ledger.

Superintendent search: Manatee County School Board members are advised that the search for a new superintendent could take a year or more. A consultant says the proper process involves developing a strategic plan, setting a timeline, getting community input, advertising, and vetting and interviewing the candidates. Diana Greene left the job in July, and Cynthia Saunders is the interim superintendent. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Superintendents’ agenda: The Florida Association of District School Superintendents releases its legislative agenda, and it all hinges on money. The group is asking legislators to increase funding for the Safe Schools program and allow districts to use the money for any type of security officer, to provide more money for mental health services for students, to allow local districts to extend local property tax increases to 10 years from four, and to not force cuts in local tax rates to allow districts to benefit from rising property values. Gradebook.

Teachers honored: Three finalists are named for the Sarasota County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Ashlee Middleton, an English language arts teacher at Sarasota High School; Shane Swezey, a middle school music teacher at Oak Park School in Sarasota; and Tessa Healy, a 4th-grade teacher at Wilkinson Elementary. The winner will be announced Dec. 12, and will compete for the state teacher of the year award. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two Polk County educators are featured as part of a literacy promotion by the nonprofit Family Literacy Academy of Lake Wales. The stories of Chasity Nieves, a 1st-grade teacher at Polk Elementary, and Aide Montufar, a paraprofessional at Boone Middle School, are on Kellogg’s cereal boxes sold at Dollar General. Lakeland Ledger.

Help for the failing: Lake County School District high school students failing in one subject area may still be promoted under a new plan approved by the school board. The plan allows for grade promotion as long as those students are getting special help in the subjects they’re failing. “Kids should definitely be held accountable for failing classes,” says Emily Weiskopf, the district’s chief of transformation. “They should not be held a whole grade level for one failed course.” Daily Commercial.

Turnaround schools: Marion County’s Oakcrest Elementary School is operating under pressure this school year. After receiving five consecutive D grades from the state, Oakcrest has to improve to a C this year or be closed, turned into a charter school or be operated by an outside company. WUFT.

Saying goodbye: Bay County School Board members bid farewell to Joe Wayne Walker, a school board member for the past eight years and an educator in the district for 41 years before that. WJHG.

Substitute standards: Substitute teachers in St. Johns County will no longer have to be college graduates, according to a new school district rule approved by the school board. “Although a bachelor’s degree is the preferred qualification, due to a shortage of substitute teachers the district reserves the right to employ substitutes with different educational credentials,” the newly worded rule reads. St. Augustine Record.

Renaming a school: Almost 90 suggestions have been submitted as a new name for Tampa’s Lee Elementary School, which was named for the Confederate general. About 25 were rejected because they violated the guidelines that rule out living persons. Sixty-two that nominated deceased, historic people or a geographic designation will be considered when the Hillsborough School Board meets Thursday. Gradebook.

Bandwidth boost: The Lake County School Board approves an improvement in bandwidth to handle the growing number of electronic devices hooking up to the Internet in schools. The monthly cost for the boost will jump from $4,940 to $8,323. Daily Commercial.

Accuser paid $55,000: The former human resources director for the Brevard County School District agrees to settle a lawsuit against the school board for $55,000. Carol Tolx alleged in the suit that she was discriminated against and forced to resign after she accused school board member Andy Ziegler of sexual harassment. Ziegler, who denies all charges, was the lone vote against the settlement. He lost his re-election campaign in the August primary, and Tuesday’s meeting was his last. Florida Today.

Guard’s charge dismissed: A judge dismisses a felony charge against a former Broward County school security guard who kept a gun in his SUV on campus. A lawyer for Nathaniel Strowbridge, 57, successfully argued that while the guard did have a gun in his SUV at Olsen Middle School in Dania Beach, the charge should have been only a misdemeanor because he had a concealed carry permit. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers arrested: A Palm Beach County teacher is arrested and accused of child abuse for punching a student at Bear Lakes Middle School last week. Police say Dennis Hall, 27, hit the 14-year-old after they exchanged words in a hallway at the school in West Palm Beach. Hall has been reassigned while the district investigates. Palm Beach Post. A Miami-Dade County teacher is arrested and accused of beating and choking his wife. Rodolfo Amaral, 31, is a teacher at Felix Varela Senior High School. District officials say they are beginning the firing process. WPLG. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Twenty-two Martin County students have been Baker-Acted this school year, and student-on-student assaults are. More police and heightened awareness are part of the equation. But are Martin County schools safer as a result, or are we criminalizing childhood? Gil Smart, TCPalm. Teacher job protections — commonly called tenure — play a critical role in ensuring that when we fulfill our role as advocates and leaders, we cannot be pushed out of our jobs. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Palm Beach Post. Teacher tenure is an archaic and sclerotic system that blunts education innovation, teacher accountability and student learning. Chris Talgo, Palm Beach Post. Florida is doing a lousy job preparing high school students for college STEM majors – and that is why we are awarding a relatively small number of bachelors’ degrees in science and engineering fields. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: All 226 seniors at Montverde Academy in Lake County help assemble 22 children’s bicycles that will be given away at a Lake County Sheriff’s Office charity event in December. Orlando Sentinel. The Miami Dolphins surprise Lake Park Elementary School students with a $10,000 grant that was used to buy almost 400 pairs of tennis shoes and an open air cooler to store milk. Palm Beach Post. Students from N.B. Cook Elementary School in Pensacola deliver 510 backpacks stuffed with school supplies to Oakcrest Elementary School students. Pensacola News Journal. Richard Gibbons and his organization called Flags for our Schools are presenting new American and Florida flags to Bay County schools. Panama City News HeraldWJHG. Monroe County middle school students are getting help resolving conflicts through the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter’s Stop Now and Plan program. Key West Citizen.

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BY NextSteps staff