Bonuses suit response delayed, report clears administrator, big districts and more

Teacher bonuses lawsuit: Lawyers for the state are asking a Leon County judge for an extension of a month to reply to an updated lawsuit filed by Florida teachers against the Best and Brightest bonus program for educators. Almost 40 school districts have been added as defendants to the lawsuit, which initially targeted just the Florida Department of Education. The suit alleges the state illegally taxed the bonuses, thereby shortchanging teachers, and that districts have siphoned money teachers should have gotten. “Because of the new parties and issues, as well as other work commitments, the undersigned council is unable to file the response prior to the expiration of deadline for filing,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office wrote. Lawyers for the teachers did not object to an extension. Politico Florida.

Administrator cleared: An assistant principal who was disciplined after the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been cleared by a district investigation. Winfred Porter Jr. and two other assistant principals were reassigned to the district office a year ago by Superintendent Robert Runcie for mishandling school safety issues. But the district’s Professional Standards Committee found “an insufficient factual or legal basis exists to establish just cause for a recommendation of disciplinary action,” and Porter can now return to Stoneman Douglas or remain at Boyd Anderson High School in Fort Lauderdale. Investigations of the other two assistants continue. Sun Sentinel.

Largest U.S. districts: Five of the 10 largest school districts in the United States are in Florida, according to the latest rankings from the 2017-2018 school year by the magazine American School & University. The Miami-Dade County School District is 4th, Broward 6th, Hillsborough 7th, Orange 9th and Palm Beach 10th. New York City’s school district is the nation’s largest. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: The Polk County School District and its teachers reach a tentative agreement to freeze teacher salaries and health insurance premiums for a year. Union president Stephanie Yocum said a small pay raise would have been offset by “crippling insurance premiums and deductible increases.” The deal must be approved by teachers before it goes to the school board in January. Lakeland Ledger.

Bible bill companion: A House bill that would require Florida public high schools to offer Bible classes now has a companion bill in the Senate. S.B. 746, filed by state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, doesn’t require students to take the classes; just that they be available. The “objective study of religion” required could include classes on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament and New Testament, or any one of the three. The House version was introduced Oct. 11 by state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

School funding sources: Nearly half the funding for Florida’s public schools came from local taxes during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a study by the National Education Association. That’s the 19th-highest level among the 50 states. Local funding made up 49.4 percent of the money for schools, while the state contributed 39.2 percent and the federal government 11.4 percent. Florida Business Daily.

Sexual harassment case timeline: The timeline of when Sarasota County School District officials learned about sexual harassment charges against its chief operating officer will be a key point in today’s school board discussion about an investigative report into the charges. COO Jeff Maultsby has resigned, but Superintendent Todd Bowden was faulted in the report for his handling of the complaint. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

New school approved: A private soccer prep school has been approved by the Westlake City Council in Palm Beach County. The International Sports Training Facility will be a pre-K through 12th grade day and boarding school for elite soccer players and others, and is expected to open in the fall of 2021. “I think it will do for the city what polo did for Wellington,” said City Manager Ken Cassel. “It will put us on the map for international soccer groups.” Palm Beach Post.

Kids with disabilities rejected: Some northeast Florida parents of children with disabilities say those children are being rejected for enrollment at charter schools. Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters says charters may suggest a different school could better serve students with disabilities. “Just like traditional public schools, each charter school has different resources and may not have the ability to meet the demands of a student with specific disabilities,” she said. WJAX.

Educators honored: Thirty-three nominees for the Santa Rosa County School District teacher of the year award have been chosen by the Santa Rosa Education Foundation. The winner will be announced Jan. 29. Pensacola News Journal.

School elections: Former Clay County school superintendent Charlie Van Sant has announced he will challenge current Superintendent Addison Davis in the 2020 election. Davis beat Van Sant in the Republican primary in 2016, then went on to overwhelmingly win in the general election. WJXT. Five candidates are running for two Marion County School Board seats in 2020. David Hutto, a 4th-grade science and social studies teacher at Harbour View Elementary School, has joined Shelia Arnett and Allison Campbell in the race for the District 1 seat being vacated by Nancy Stacy. In District 2, incumbent Beth McCall has drawn a challenge from Todd Yocum, who teaches in Alachua County. Ocala Star-Banner.

School enrollment: About 300 fewer students are enrolled in the Alachua County School District’s 41 traditional schools and centers this year than last, according to the October count reported to the state. The count, which took place Oct. 7-11, showed 31,442 students in the district. Gainesville Sun.

Rezoning complaint: Wesley Chapel parents whose children may be zoned out of Wiregrass High School say it’s not fair that they, as residents in the school’s current zone, have to move to Cypress Creek Middle-High School while choice students get to stay. Pasco school district officials say there aren’t enough choice students at Wiregrass to make much of a difference in its overcrowding. Gradebook.

Pay hike for substitutes: The Leon County School District is bumping the pay for substitute teachers from $12 an hour to $14. “We were really facing a substitute shortage,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. The increase will cost the school district about $250,000 a year. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Referendum spending: The Charlotte County School District has spent more than $1.7 million of the $18.8 million the district expects to collect from a voter-approved property tax increase, according to an update from Superintendent Steve Dionisio. Most of the money, $1.4 million, has gone toward improving salaries and benefits. Almost $44,000 has been spent on art and music materials and equipment, $41,500 on security, $46,400 on paraprofessionals, $65,000 on special education liaisons and behavior specialists, and $55,500 on social workers and psychologists. Charlotte Sun.

School now part of tour: Southside Elementary School in Sarasota will become a stop in the Newtown Alive trolley tour. The school was chosen because a plaque honoring Dorothye Smith, the first black principal at Southside and a civil rights pioneer, will be located there as part of the tour marking African-American history in the community. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Students and the law: A 13-year-old Lake County student is arrested after threatening to bring a gun to Eustis Middle School and begin shooting. He faces a juvenile charge of making a false report concerning a firearm in a deadly manner. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: When you see local and statewide SAT scores, it becomes clear why the state and districts aren’t eager to share them: the results are indeed, a boo-worthy horror show. Anyone with the smallest interest in education would gasp to see how poorly Florida students perform. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. The Escambia County School Board has a responsibility to do a nationwide search for the very best candidate to be the district’s first appointed superintendent. It should be someone who has a winning track record as a successful superintendent. We don’t have time for on-the-job training of someone who wants to learn to be a superintendent. Terry Horne, Pensacola News Journal. Florida’s long-term trend of high rankings when adjusting for demographics is holding despite the recent score stagnation reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Bay County schools get several pallets full of writing paper, folders, glue, pencils and other materials needed in classrooms from Publix and United Way of Northwest Florida. Panama City News Herald. Tampa 3rd-grader Parker Williams tried to give $15 of his birthday money to his teacher at Gorrie Elementary in Tampa as a raise. The teacher, Mary Hall Chambers, said she couldn’t accept it, but appreciated the gesture and wrote: “Students like you are the reason I teach.” WFLA.

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BY NextSteps staff