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Charters audit, sales tax fight, expanding choice, tying pay to courses and more

Charter financial reporting: A Florida Auditor General’s report disclosed 208 financially related findings against 104 charter schools during the 2017-2018 school year. The auditor reviewed 644 charter schools, and more than a quarter of them repeated offenses found in previous audits. Thirty-eight instances of “material weaknesses” were found at 28 charters, which is more than double those found in the year before. The report does note that the number of charters operating at a deficit is down 40 percent in the past three years. Politico Florida.

Sales tax hike fight: The Duval County School Board’s bid to hire an outside lawyer to advise it in its fight with the Jacksonville City Council over the placement of a sales tax referendum on the ballot has been denied by the city attorney. On Tuesday, the school board voted to hire outside counsel. On Wednesday, city general counsel Jason Gabriel said such a move was not allowed. “There is no charter authority for obtaining outside counsel to challenge the opinion of the (general counsel’s) office,” Gabriel said in an email. The city council has delayed any consideration of putting the half-cent sales tax hike on the ballot, which was requested by the school board to replace and repair aging schools. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics.

Widening choices: Educational choice takes another step forward in Florida for the 2019-2020 school year with the addition of another scholarship program, more money being made available for the existing ones and a strong push for an expansion of charter schools. Adding those choices to other educational alternatives such as open enrollment, magnet programs and homeschooling means almost half of Florida students are attending a school other than the one they are assigned to. That trend is expected to continue with choice proponents in the governor’s office and the Legislature’s leadership. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship programs. Tampa Bay Times.

No courses, no pay: Superintendents whose districts fail to comply with state law on teaching the Holocaust and black history would lose their pay under a bill a state representative says she will file for the 2020 legislative session. State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, says “after 25 years of haphazard implementation, it is time to put some teeth into this law.” Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics.

Allegations timeline: Memos show that Sarasota County Superintendent Todd Bowden knew about sexual harassment allegations against the district’s chief operating officer weeks before placing him on leave. Bowden was approached by Jeff Maultsby’s administrative assistant with the complaint in April. A May 22 memo from Bowden to the district equity director described the allegations in detail. An official district investigation was launched May 24, and Maultsby was placed on leave June 18, with Bowden citing “subsequent allegations” that have never been detailed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Security in schools: Pasco County is not among the school districts criticized by a statewide grand jury for being out of compliance with state safety requirements, says Superintendent Kurt Browning. He says he’s heard about 10 districts were the grand jury’s target, though he does not know which ones. Gradebook. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says districts that are not in compliance with state school safety laws will be required to withhold superintendents’ salaries. Spectrum Bay News 9. Charlotte County school officials are working on four policies to improve school safety. Charlotte Sun. Leon County School Board members approve a $1 million plan to provide mental health services for students in all schools, including charters. Tallahassee Democrat. Bulletproof backpacks are now being sold at stores in the Orlando area. WOFL.

District budgets: The Marion County School Board has scheduled a tentative vote and three public workshops to review the district’s $593 million budget, which is about $39 million more than last year’s. More than $19 million of the increase is going for higher salaries and benefits. Ocala Star-Banner. The Pasco County School District is projecting another tight budget year with rising expenses and additional spending mandates from the state. Security in schools will cost about $1 million more than the state is providing, says chief financial officer Olga Swinson, and providing 3 percent raises for employees bumps payroll by $11 million. The first public hearing on the budget is July 30. Tampa Bay Times. The Gulf County School Board tentatively approves a budget and millage rate for the 2019-2020 school year. A drop in revenue from a lower millage rate will be offset by a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast. Port St. Joe Star.

Testing troubles: Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor is calling for a meeting to address students’ poor testing results in his district. He says 60 percent of those students are below grade level in English, math and science, called it a crisis and compared some schools in his district to immigration detention facilities. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said Proctor was grandstanding. “Comparing the schools in our community to border detention facilities is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to garner media attention, and it is offensive,” Hanna said. Tallahassee Democrat.

Getting the lead out: Only about 12 percent of the nation’s school districts inspected for lead-based paint in the 2016-2017 school year, according to a report from the U.S. General Accountability Office, and about half of those found evidence of it. There’s no federal requirement for school districts to hold inspections, although the Environmental Protection Agency recommends schools take preventative measures against lead exposure. Politico Florida. The Hillsborough County School District’s “Get the Lead Out” initiative, which includes placing water filters at all sources, has gotten all county schools under the EPA-recommended levels of lead in water. WFLA. WTVT. Florida Politics.

Hundley vows appeal: The Manatee County School Board’s decision to terminate the contract of a financially struggling charter school and take control of it will be appealed, says the school’s former principal and CEO, Eddie Hundley. If the appeal is filed within the 10-day time limit, a review will be conducted by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. Bradention Herald.

Pension fund report: The Florida retirement system, which covers Florida teachers and other school workers, reported an annual return of 6.17 percent during the fiscal year that ended June 30. It’s the 10th straight year the fund has reported a positive return on investments. In that time, the fund has grown from $99.58 billion to an estimated $162.95 billion. Florida Phoenix.

Medical marijuana at schools: The Charlotte County School District is working on a policy that would allow qualified students to receive medical marijuana treatments at schools. The treatment would have to be administered by a parent or caregiver, and the medication would not be allowed to be stored at any school. The school board will consider the policy proposal at a future meeting. Charlotte Sun.

Charters and segregation: A new national study concludes that the expansion of charter schools is contributing to the racial segregation in education, but that the impact is fairly small. “Our study shows that critics are incorrect when they say that charters are driving a resegregation of American schools,” wrote the three researchers, whose work was released by the Urban Institute. “But it also shows that charter proponents are incorrect to assume that freeing public schools from neighborhood boundaries will necessarily enhance racial integration.” Chalkbeat.

School construction: Fifteen Palm Beach County schools are being renovated over the summer break. Another 187 schools are scheduled for work made possible, in part, by the extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016. Palm Beach Post.

School calendars: The Palm Beach County School Board approves an Aug. 10 start date to the 2020-2021 school year, over the objections of parents who says it cuts their summers short. Aug. 10 is the earliest start date allowed by the state. The board will give further consideration to the Aug. 10, 2021, start date proposed by district staff. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Languages of schools: Language diversity is a reality in today’s schools. In Hillsborough County, for instance, nearly 49,000 students speak one of 197 languages. Pinellas County has students born in 154 countries that speak 99 different languages. That kind of diversity presents challenges for educators around the state. Tampa Bay Times.

Notable deaths: Robert Anderson, a longtime Brevard County school administrator, school board member and Rockledge City Council member, has died at the age of 92. Florida Today.

Personnel moves: Michael Maine is the first-ever senior recruiter for the Hernando County School District. The former principal at Spring Hill Elementary is tasked with recruiting and retaining teachers. Tampa Bay Times. New principals are named for schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.

School board elections: Miami Springs City Council member Jaime Petralanda says he is running for the District 5 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board. The current holder of that seat, Susie Castillo, is not running for re-election. Also in the race is another Miami Springs council member, Mara Zapata. Miami Herald.

School district properties: The Martin County School Board approves the $7.9 million purchase of the old Stuart News building. It will become the headquarters for the school district’s administrative staff. TCPalm. The Monroe County School Board approves a $13.9 million project to build a transportation facility on Stock Island. Board members had been urged to consider using the property for employee housing instead. Key West Citizen.

Child porn at school: A man is arrested after Palm Beach County deputies found child pornography on his work computer at the Renaissance Learning Academy charter school at the Els Center of Excellence in Jupiter. School officials say Timothy Robert Scott, 56, is employed by the foundation that operates the 26-acre campus. Palm Beach Post.

Preschool teacher arrested: A Flagler County preschool teacher has been arrested and accused of child abuse. Deputies say Xiomara Mara Quinones, 51, grabbed a 3-year-old student by the arm and threw him to the floor at the Roma Court Academy child-care center. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s decision to submit noted educator Mary McLeod Bethune to the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol sends a message that in our state, education is just as important to survival as air. Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Students at Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota County are improving their reading skills through the Starfish Initiative organized by Temple Beth Sholom and Sandhill Preserve. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Duval County students get practical lessons in personal finance as part of the moveUP Money Experience for Teens staged by Community First Credit Union. Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff