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Teacher pay raise questions, ‘mental health days’ bill, LGBTQ+ awareness and more

Raising teacher pay: A critical question still unanswered after Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a minimum starting salary of $47,500 for teachers is this: Do the governor and the Legislature even have the power, under state law, to set teacher pay? Legislative leaders have pointed in the past to the law, which gives local school boards the power to set pay scales through collective bargaining, to explain why they can’t set pay rates. And when then-Gov. Rick Scott tried to give every teacher a $2,500 raise six years ago, the Legislature tied the proposal to performance evaluations instead of spreading it around to everyone. It may be that state law would need to be changed to allow the Legislature to set a minimum salary, in the same way as it does the minimum wage. Gradebook.

‘Mental health days’ bill: A bill filed by State Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, would allow school districts to offer Florida K-12 public school students a “mental health day” each semester. The law would require parents to “justify each absence of the student, and that justification will be evaluated based on adopted district school board policies.” Both Utah and Oregon have adopted similar laws. Florida Politics.

LGBTQ+ awareness: October has been declared LGBTQ+ awareness month at all Orange County public schools by the school board in a unanimous vote. It’s the first time a central Florida school district has made such a declaration. Many campuses posted the words “OCPS Accepts Everyone” on their school signs. Board chair Teresa Jacobs said the proclamation tells every student, “no matter who they are and how they feel, they’re OK, and they fit.” Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent’s settlement rejected: Florida’s Education Practices Commission has rejected a proposed settlement between the state Department of Education and Manatee County school Superintendent Cynthia Saunders over accusations that she manipulated data to inflate the district’s graduation rate. The settlement would have included a $750 fine, a letter of reprimand, two years of probation and more, but only if Saunders took a job that required an educator’s license. “I’m not happy with the settlement at all,” said Christie Gold, the presiding officer. “This doesn’t seem like a sanction at all to me.” Saunders can now appeal the decision to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. or reopen settlement negotiations with DOE. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Reading problems: Reading progress by Hillsborough County students is hampered by teacher vacancies, materials that don’t engage students, especially minorities, and hardships outside of school, according to a report the district commissioned from a Boston-based consulting group. “Despite the best efforts of Hillsborough County educators, there has been minimal evidence of improvement in closing proficiency gaps in the three-year comparisons,” the report concludes. Tampa Bay Times.

Impact fees hike delayed: The Hernando County Commission has postponed the school district’s request to increase impact fees on new development. The district was asking to triple the fee to about $6,500 so it could keep up with enrollment growth. “$4,000 is a huge increase at once,” said Commissioner John Allocco. “I don’t think anyone on this board can stomach that.” The two sides will resume discussions. Tampa Bay Times.

School rezoning: The Manatee County School District is proposing new school zones that would allow more students to attend schools closest to their homes. “In the past, we tended to move minority students to white schools for the sake of diversification, but we stuck them on buses for an hour a day, to their detriment,” said school board member Charlie Kennedy. “We’re looking at solutions in favor of keeping students at their closest geographical school, regardless of the diversity factor.” The board will collect feedback from parents over the next month, then vote on the plan in November. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Performance pay: About 745 Highlands County School District teachers who were graded as highly effective or effective will get performance pay increases of up to $2,670, according to deputy superintendent Andrew Lethbridge. Highlands News-Sun.

More funds for school: A Manatee County alternative education middle school for girls hopes to get an additional $86,000 in money from the school board to improve programs for students and pay and benefits for teachers. Just for Girls was one of the “contract” sites not covered by the property tax increase approved by voters last year. Bradenton Herald.

Medical marijuana at schools: The Lake County School Board is being asked to approve a new policy that would allow students to use medical marijuana at schools. It would allow students with prescriptions to be administered the drug at school by a parent or caretaker. The drug cannot be stored on campus. Daily Commercial.

Mumps case at school: A case of mumps has been confirmed at Pioneer Middle School in Broward County, according to the principal of the Cooper City school. Michael Consaul didn’t say if the person infected was a student or employee. Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Student denied therapy: A 7-year-old autistic Brevard County student has not been allowed to receive therapy in his Enterprise Elementary School classroom. District officials had allowed the nonverbal boy’s registered behavior technician (RBT) in school for therapy at the beginning of the school year, but then ended it because the language of the state law does not specifically mention RBTs. WFTV.

School elections: Marcus Chambers, who was appointed superintendent of the Okaloosa County School District in January after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Mary Beth Jackson for her handling of a child abuse case, has announced he will run for a full term. Also running are Christopher Tillis and charter school administrator and former state representative Ray Sansom. Northwest Florida Daily News. Sumter County School District Superintendent Richard Shirley announces he will run for another term next year. Shirley has been superintendent since 1996. Villages-News. Hillsborough County School Board members Cindy Stuart and Tamara Shamburger say they are running for re-election in 2020. Stuart has one opponent so far, teacher Jessica Vaughn. No one has filed yet in Shamburger’s district. Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Elected superintendent: The Jacksonville City Council defers making a decision about supporting a proposal by a member of the Duval County legislative delegation to make the school superintendent’s job an elected one. The proposal will be considered in two weeks. Florida Politics.

Legislative agenda: Polk County School Board members list their legislative priorities, which include raises instead of bonuses for all teachers and other school employees, boosting the base student allocation by 3 percent or more, ending the practice of rolling back property tax rates, fully funding security officers and mental health counselors, and requiring teachers’ value-added model scores to be delivered to the district by July 31 each year. Lakeland Ledger.

New branding urged: The Leon County School Board votes today on hiring a consulting firm to help the district hire a marketing director. Voss & Associates would be paid up to $58,400 over the next 10 months to develop a new branding strategy for the district and help find a marketing director. Company owner David Voss told the board the district’s brand “lacks meaning” and is “old, antiquated.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Settlement helps district: Florida’s share of the U.S. Department of Justice settlement with Volkswagen over an emissions scandal will help the Duval County School District upgrade its old diesel school buses. The state’s share of the $14.7 billion settlement is $166 million. WJXT.

Late school buses: Late school buses have been an ongoing problem in Alachua County this school year, causing some students to miss after-school activities. District officials say a shortage of drivers is the biggest reason. Gainesville Sun.

Bus drivers get a raise: Bus drivers in training will be paid $13 an hour by the St. Johns County School District, up from the $8.48 they had been paid. The school board approved the raise as a way to address the ongoing shortage of drivers. Fulltime drivers make between $13 and $21 an hour. St. Augustine Record.

Cyberstalker convicted: A jury has convicted a 21-year-old man of cyberstalking and making kidnapping threats to Parkland school shooting survivors and their families last December. Brandon Michael Fleury faces up to four years and eight months in federal prison. Sun Sentinel.

Coach suspended: Tom Abel, the football coach at Wellington High School in Palm Beach Beach County, has been suspended for five games for allegedly cussing at officials during a game Sept. 26. He appealed the decision, but the appeal was denied by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Palm Beach Post.

Students and the law: Broward County sheriff’s deputies are questioning a Lauderdale Lakes Middle School student who had a pellet gun on his school bus. Deputies say the student was not threatening anyone. Miami Herald. A 14-year-old student at Cypress Creek Middle/High School in Pasco County is arrested after sending her teacher an email threatening to kill her. The girl was upset because she’s failing the class. Miami Herald. A 14-year-old DeLand Middle School student is arrested after threatening in text messages to a classmate to bring a gun to school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: There are plenty of details to resolve involving both policy and politics, but the governor’s ambitious plan to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500 is an impressive opening bid for a broader discussion. Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed pay raise for teachers is good policy, smart politics and would be very expensive. Steve Bousquet, Sun Sentinel. We all should be glad to see the governor’s proposed pay raise for starting teachers, which reinforces the fact that teaching is an honorable profession. Just don’t forget those Florida teachers who have been in front of those classes for a long, long time. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

Student enrichment: Teachers at Oceanway Elementary School in Jacksonville get a $10,000 donation from Burlington Stores and to use for buying school supplies. WJXT.

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BY NextSteps staff