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School funding inequities by race, security lapses, raises for educators and more

Funding inequities: Eight of the 10 largest school districts in Florida spend less money per student in schools with the highest percentage of nonwhite students than in those with fewer nonwhites, according to a new report from the nonprofit Education Reform Now. In Miami-Dade County, the difference is about 27 percent, or about $3,400 more in schools with the lowest percentage of nonwhite students. “Take a standard class size of, say, 25 students. That’s an $85,000 difference in funding — for just one classroom,” says Charles Barone, one of the authors of the report. “Just imagine what you could do with that money.” Only the Pinellas and Lee school districts spend more in schools with the highest percentage of nonwhite students. Miami New Times.

Security in schools: A lapse in security this week at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange prompts the school district to launch an investigation into failures in following safety protocols. A drunken 51-year-old man walked into the school with a knife in his pocket and sat down in a classroom before he was taken into custody. Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor said employees will be retrained and some physical changes will be made to improve security. “No one’s rushing to judgment, but if after the investigation there is reason to address (employee discipline) then it will be addressed,” Egnor said. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said the department’s policies were not followed when the officer who arrested two 6-year-olds at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy on Sept. 19 returned to the school the next day for work. Orlando Sentinel.

Raises approved: The Broward County School Board voted to approve pay raises for two high-level district administrators over the objections of the teachers union and three members of the board. Maurice Woods, the district’s chief strategy and operations officer, received a $6,000 raise, taking his salary up to $202,850. Valerie Wanza, chief of school performance and accountability, got a $5,500 raise, boosting her pay to $191,232. Union officials are trying to bargain for teacher raises, and say the timing on these raises is bad. Superintendent Robert Runcie said the raises are justified because both are taking on extra responsibilities. Sun Sentinel. The agreed-upon raises for Brevard County teachers won’t take effect until a deal is reached on working conditions, and officials say that could take some time. Negotiations are continuing. Florida Today.

District’s self-assessment: The Polk County School District has met its goals for higher graduation rates, reducing the dropout rate and improving the perception of the district, officials say at their annual retreat. But it’s lagging on improving its test scores compared with other large state districts, and on retaining teachers in their first five years. Lakeland Ledger.

Schools and the census: The Collier County School District is organizing a community group that will encourage residents to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census. “This isn’t a CCPS thing,” said school district spokesman Chad Oliver. “This is a Collier County thing. We recognize that we can either sit back and hope for participation or we can get out there and do something about it.” Results from the census determine federal funding for local governments, including schools. Naples Daily News.

Legislative goals: Manatee County school officials lobbied their legislative delegation in a meeting Wednesday to increase the amount of money spent on education. Teachers union president Pat Barber told legislators that “education funding in this state has not caught up to pre-recession levels,” and that average teacher pay has declined in the past 10 years when factoring in inflation. Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, noted that the 2019 Legislature approved a budget allocating $242 more per student but that education spending is “a priority for me in the Senate.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

New school site: The St. Johns County School District is backing off its recommended site for a K-8 academy in Nocatee because of environmental issues that could delay the project and add costs. Overcrowding at nearby school is pushing the district to make a decision soon so the new school can be opened by the fall of 2021. District officials will take another look at three other sites that were originally considered. St. Augustine Record.

School repairs: The Gulf County School Board approves spending nearly $6 million to repair roofs at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School and Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, and to fix air-conditioning problems at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High and Port St. Joe Elementary. Port St. Joe Star.

Sunshine Law advice: Pasco County School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso tells board members to send all emails they receive, even unsolicited ones, to the superintendent’s office for further distribution rather than risk violating the state’s Sunshine Law. Gradebook.

School board seat: Two people have applied for a seat on the Gulf County School Board  that has been vacant since Billy Quinn Jr. died last spring. A replacement has to be appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Port St. Joe Star.

Superintendent’s job: Pinellas County school Superintendent Michael Grego just marked seven years on the job and says he has “hope for many more,” tamping down speculation that he could replace the retiring Jeff Eakins in neighboring Hillsborough County. Gradebook. More than 1,000 people left responses on the Hillsborough district’s survey about what they’d like to see in a new superintendent. Gradebook.

Private schools rated: The Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove is the top-rated private school in Florida, according to a report in the online rating site The website used U.S. Department of Education data on test scores, college enrollment and more to compile the ratings. Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Student sues board: A Palm Beach County high school senior is suing the school board over injuries she suffered when she was ordered to move a 500-pound tractor tire during her Junior ROTC class at Seminole Ridge High School in 2016. The student, who was 15 at the time, says in the suit that she was given no instructions on how to move the tire. It fell on her and fractured her left ankle and right foot. Palm Beach Post.

Employees disciplined: A Fort Myers High School teacher has been reassigned from the classroom to the district headquarters in Fort Myers after being accused of taking money from a regional drama club made up of 700 students from 30 schools from Manatee to Collier counties. Lee County district officials declined to name the teacher or how much money is missing. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBH. Two Okaloosa County school employees have been put on administrative leave after allegedly disciplining a Walker Elementary School 2nd-grader by making him duck-walk in front of his classmates. Northwest Florida Daily News. The head football coach at Plant High School in Tampa and his director of football operations have been suspended for six weeks for giving impermissible benefits to a player, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association. Coach Robert Weiner was also fined $5,000, while Misty Winter was fined $2,500 and the school another $2,500. Weiner said he was just trying to help a player find a place to stay, and is appealing the FHSAA’s decision. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WFTS.

Students arrested: A 12-year-old Pinellas County student was arrested and accused of making threats on social media against Tyrone Middle School. Tampa Bay Times. Two St. Lucie County students, 16 and 14, are arrested for vandalizing Treasure Coast High School and writing threats on poles and pillars at the school, according to Port St. Lucie police. Palm Beach Post.

School video investigated: Pinellas County school officials are investigating what they’re calling a “racially insensitive” video made in the courtyard of St. Petersburg High School on Monday. The video shows a white student mockingly using a whip on another white student, and was posted on social media. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The arrests of very young children reflect research that suggests cops in schools can take what would otherwise be a routine school disciplinary situation and escalate it. F. Chris Curran, Gainesville Sun. Raising pay may not be enough to solve the teacher shortage. Teachers are tired of the top-down regulations and the Legislature’s attacks on public education and its continuing efforts at cutting state funding for public schools. St. Augustine Record. The way schools in Flagler County and across Florida now handle security threats on campuses is not nearly as draconian as the stream of arrests make it appear. The reason: there is a contradiction in Florida security laws passed in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February 2018. Flagler Live.

Student enrichment: A student-run branch of VyStar Credit Union has been opened at Clay High School. Clay Today.

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BY NextSteps staff