Bonus eligibility, sales tax hike proposal, budgets, contract talks, pre-K test and more

Bonus eligibility: In reworking the state’s Best and Brightest educator bonuses program, the Legislature created a “recruitment award” of $4,000 for newly hired teachers who are considered “content experts” in math, science, computer science, reading or civics. But it didn’t define the term, leaving it to the Florida Board of Education, which finally did so with an emergency rule issued this week. “In-field” teachers must have a valid certificate “per the course code directory” to be eligible. In math, science and computer science, teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience working or teaching in the field. In civics and reading, teachers must have a master’s degree in a related subject and at least five years’ experience teaching or working. Florida Politics. Gradebook.

Sales tax hike proposal: Duval County School Board member Warren Jones says he was told last month by Sam Mousa, then the chief administrator for Mayor Lenny Curry, that the request for a referendum on a sales tax hike could be approved if the district promised $150 million for charter schools, was moved to November 2020 and Mousa and his unnamed business partner were hired to lead the push. Mousa says he doesn’t recall making such an offer, and denies he was soliciting the board for his services. Florida Times-Union. Clay County commissioners say they didn’t refuse to put a sales tax hike on the ballot as the school board alleges in a lawsuit; they simply want to do it in November 2020 instead of in a special election this November. Commissioners also asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. WJXT.

District budgets: A tentative $3.3 billion budget is approved by the Hillsborough County School Board. Gradebook. Pinellas County School Board members give approval to a tentative budget of $1.6 billion. Gradebook. Lee County School Board members give their approval for a tentative $1.57 billion budget, which is $9 million more than last year’s. Fort Myers News-Press. A tentative $1.39 billion budget is approved by the Pasco County School Board. Gradebook. Manatee County School Board members tentatively approve a $768 million budget at a meeting that disrupted by protesters who wanted to talk about other topics. Bradenton Herald. The Marion County School Board approves a tentative $593 million budget, and also agrees to hire Jayne Ellspermann LLC to operate Evergreen Elementary School. Ocala Star-Banner. A tentative budget of $423 million is approved by the Alachua County School Board. Gainesville Sun. Volusia County School Board members approve a tentative budget that calls for taking $20 million from reserves to cover a deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Hernando County School Board approves a tentative budget of $274 million, which is $10 million higher than last year’s. Tampa Bay Times. Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas defends rolling back the property tax rate, pointing out that even if the old rate had stayed in place and the district collected millions of additional dollars, the money would have to be spent on capital projects instead of salaries. Pensacola News Journal.

Contract negotiations: Negotiations will resume between the Orange County School District and its teachers union after a proposed deal was overwhelmingly rejected by teachers. For many teachers, the increase in family health insurance premiums would have been more than the pay raise. But it’s unclear if the teachers can get a better deal than the one they rejected. Union officials suggest tapping reserves to improve teacher pay, but board member Linda Kobert says that’s not a solution. Instead, she suggests, cuts will have to be made to boost salaries. Orlando Sentinel.

Pre-K test troubles: More than 540 voluntary prekindergarten providers in Florida are on probation from the state because at least 60 percent of their students didn’t pass the pass the mandatory kindergarten readiness test. Teachers say the results are flawed because the test is given too early in the school year and it’s now done online instead of through teacher observation. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran agrees, but the state is locked into its contract with the test provider through January 2021. WTSP.

Hiring teachers: More than 100 teachers have been hired for the 50 lowest-achieving schools in Hillsborough County, leaving 85 vacancies to fill, says Superintendent Jeff Eakins. Overall, the district has hired more than 1,000 teachers, up from 668 at this time last year. Gradebook. The state’s teacher shortage is costing central Florida school districts tens of millions of dollars each year for substitutes, and some counties are even advertising for fulltime subs. WFTV.

Superintendent search: The Hillsborough County School Board has hired Ray and Associates to find candidates to replace Superintendent Jeff Eakins, who is leaving the district when his contract ends June 30, 2020. The company is already searching for a replacement for Marion County Superintendent Heidi Maier, so the district is piggybacking on that search, which will keep the cost down to $45,000 for three months. The board wants Eakins’ successor in place early in 2020. Gradebook.

Adding a finance chief: Polk County school officials are proposing to hire a high-level executive to handle the finances of the district. The position would pay $136,000, plus $29,000 in benefits. Creating the position would allow deputy superintendent John Hill to focus on academics. Lakeland Ledger.

Security in schools: The Citrus County School Board approves a $2.4 million contract with the sheriff’s office to place resource officers in 21 county schools, as well as a memo of understanding that spells out the role of the guardians and how they will interact with the sheriff’s office. Citrus County Chronicle.

Two schools to close: Duval County School Board members give final approval to close two struggling schools. Northwestern Middle School will close after the coming school year. Lake Forest Elementary closed in May and will be transformed into an early learning community center. WJXT.

Enrollment growth: School construction in the Wesley Chapel area of Pasco County is booming as the school district keeps expanding to try to keep up with enrollment growth. Over the last nine years, about 8,500 students have been added to schools, and another 1,300 more are expected when schools open Aug. 12. Most of the schools in the Wesley Chapel area are already over 100 percent of capacity. Tampa Bay Times.

Home-schooling growth: The number of Florida children being home-schooled grew 8.3 percent last year, according to the annual report from the Florida Department of Education. In the 2018-2019 school year, 97,261 students were home-schooled, which was up 7,444 over last year and 16 percent more than the number in the 2014-2015 school year. redefinED.

Holocaust education: School lessons about the Holocaust should be included in classes other than history and social studies, says the director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education. Linda Medvin says discussions about  mass genocide can also be integrated into science, math and even physical education classes. WLRN.

Girls and science: Girls and women are still underrepresented in the field of science, and a closer look at Florida students is a reflection of that reality. Students take state science exams in 5th and 8th grades, and boys showed greater proficiency and mastery than girls at both levels. In 9th and 10th grades students usually take the state biology exam. Again, boys at both levels showed greater proficiency and mastery. And boys also did better on the science portion of the ACT college entrance exam. Florida Phoenix.

Education podcasts: The recently elected chair of the Florida Board of Education, Andy Tuck, talks about the academic progress the state has made in K-12, school choice and teacher pay. redefinED.

Commissioner contradicted: Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor was off-base when he compared some district schools to immigration detention centers, says school board member Joy Bowen. Bowen, 74, says she knows because she lived through the days before schools were integrated. Tallahassee Democrat.

Box top makeover: General Mills is making a change in its Box Tops for Education program. Instead of having consumers clip the box tops and send them in to get cash for schools, as they have been doing for 23 years, school supporters will have to scan in receipts to an app within 14 days of the purchase. Sun Sentinel.

Student fair day: The Hillsborough County School Board wants to change the district’s Student Fair Day, which traditionally has given students a day off school and a free ticket to the state fair, but no transportation or supervision. Security has been a problem, and in 2014 a 14-year-old student died when he was hit by a car after being ejected from the fairgrounds. Among the ideas being considered: changing it from a day to a weekend, or providing a timeout room for disruptive students where counselors and mental health workers can intervene instead of police officers. Gradebook.

Back-to-school events: Gilchrist County is holding back-to-school events for students this week. WGFL.

Ex-principal suing school: The former principal of the Bay Haven Charter Academy in Bay County is suing the school, alleging that chief executive officer sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her after she complained about it. Jamie Vickers said her complaints against CEO Larry Bolinger led to reprimands and a demotion. Panama City News Herald.

Day-care center closed: The Broward County day-care center where a 2-year-old boy was left unattended in a van and died Monday has been closed while authorities investigate. Sun Sentinel.

Getting to school safely: A Duval County mother’s concern for the safety of her daughter as she walks to school will be discussed at the September meeting of the school board. Lori Culvert says her daughter has to walk across six lanes to get to Mayport Middle School because they live within 2 miles of the school and aren’t eligible for a bus ride. It’s the same intersection where a 12-year-old student was struck and killed in 2017. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: Eighteen states now have policies requiring retention for 3rd-graders who can’t display reading proficiency. But research suggests that while retention helps students in the short term, it also increases the likelihood of a student dropping out and disproportionately affects students of color, impoverished children, English language learners and special needs students. Naaz Modan, Education Dive. Although the high participation rates in Florida’s universal pre-K program are commendable, the quality of the program threatens its long-term effectiveness. Kelly B. Smith, Orlando Sentinel. Great leaders are the linchpin of great schools. Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, Florida Times-Union.

Student enrichment: Lake County’s version of Dancing With the Stars raises $103,000 for the Educational Foundation of Lake County. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff