DeSantis urges bold action on teacher pay, sales tax hike headed to a vote, schools’ futures and more

State of the State: In his State of the State speech Tuesday that opened the 60-day legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for bold action to raise teacher pay, reform the educator bonuses program, replace the Common Core academic standards, promote school accountability, and expand civics education and educational choice programs. “There is no reason why we can’t seize this moment,” he told legislators. He also touted accomplishments in his first year on the job, including allowing teachers to be armed and starting a new voucher program that pays for students to go to private schools. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. GateHouse. Tallahassee Democrat. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel and Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. WFSU. Florida Phoenix. WPTV. In his opening address, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, called for civility and said the governor’s proposal to raise starting teacher pay is still being worked out. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, stressed fiscal restraint in his address, and said he wants to take a closer look at income limits and outcomes for state-awarded college scholarships such as Bright Futures. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

Board backs sales tax hike: Okaloosa County School Board members have approved the placement of a half-cent increase in the sales tax on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. The tax is projected to generate about $20 million a year over its 10-year life, which would be used to repair schools, replace portable classrooms with school additions and upgrade the district’s bus fleet. A district consultant will help compile a list of projects for the board to approve this spring. Meanwhile, the campaign to sell the tax to voters has already begun. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School closing: Pasco County School Board members have voted to close the long-struggling Hudson Elementary School at the end of this school year. The school had earned a grade above a D from the state just once in the past nine years. Most of the students are likely to be transferred to Northwest and Gulf Highlands elementary schools. The Hudson campus, which includes middle and high schools, would get a construction overhaul, adopt the Cambridge instructional model and add social services for family and community use. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS.

Turnaround school’s future: State education officials have told the Marion County School District that if Evergreen Elementary School fails to earn at least a C grade from the state, it will be turned into a charter school instead of being run by an outside operator hired by the school board or closed. The school, which has received D or F grades for the past 10 years, has been run by two different outside operators the past two years. State education officials told school board members that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran won’t allow any school to be run by an outside operator for a third year, and district officials said Corcoran has also said he will deny attempts by districts to close schools. Ocala Star-Banner.

Administration downsizing: Miami-Dade County School Board members are expected to vote today on a complicated deal with a developer and a  community redevelopment agency that would open the current 10-acre downtown administrative headquarters to development and place the school offices in a much smaller space next door. The deal would also provide money for the district that would be used for rebuilding two nearby schools, make affordable housing available for teachers and the elderly, and pay for teacher salaries and educational programs. “It’s unprecedented, the complexity of this,” said Jaime Torrens, the district’s chief facilities officer. “It’s going to be something we look back on favorably.” Miami Herald.

Drawing school boundaries: Lee County School Board members have approved hiring a California consultant to help them redraw elementary school boundaries that will put students closer to their schools. Davis Demographics & Planning will be paid $280,000 for the work, and will have to create boundaries that assure equal access of students for the special programs offered by the schools. “This is a very complicated thing,” said Superintendent Greg Adkins. If the redistricting is successful, it could be expanded to include middle and high schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

Desegregation order: The Indian River County School District has submitted a plan to a federal court that, if approved and followed, could lead to an end to the federal desegregation order that’s been in place since 1967. The plan, developed by a committee with district and NAACP officials, would require the district to hire more black teachers, provide them with mentors, and stay faithful to the plan to end the racial achievement gap. Progress will be monitored over the next three years. If the district complies with the remaining court requirements in that time, it can declare unitary status. TCPalm.

Reading program announced: Two Manatee County elementary schools will become home to pilot projects developed to improve reading skills. Learning Pals, a program developed by the United Way Suncoast, will begin at Samoset Elementary School in Bradenton and the Palm View K-6 School in Palmetto. At the end of the pilot period, the programs will assess progress and make improvements before expanding to eight other schools. Bradenton Herald. WUSF.

Security in schools: Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is lobbying the Legislature to pass a law requiring panic buttons in schools. “To honor Alyssa’s legacy means everything to my family and that Alyssa’s name lives on forever,” Alhadeff said. “Alyssa’s Law will save people’s lives in the future.” Sun Sentinel. Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow also was killed at Marjory Stoneman, said new technology is being developed that can shave seconds off the response time of law enforcement officials in an emergency. “Every second can be another gunshot, could mean another life,” he said. The technology gives law enforcement access to school intercom systems, as well as interactive floor plans and classroom photos. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendents sub: Superintendents in Duval and Brevard counties were among the substitute teachers who covered classrooms Monday while thousands of teachers converged on Tallahassee to rally for higher pay and more education funding. Duval Superintendent Diana Greene worked a half-day in a 3rd-grade classroom at Gregory Drive Elementary School, and Brevard Superintendent Mark Mullins and school board members also substituted. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Space Coast Daily.

Requirements lowered for subs: The Manatee County School Board has voted to lower the requirements for substitute teachers in an effort to curb ongoing shortages. People will now be eligible to work as substitutes even if they have only a high school diploma or GED and have not completed 60 hours of college coursework. “We just don’t have the workforce,” said board member Scott Hopes. “We really have a shortage. For the most part, these teachers won’t be teaching algebra or trigonometry courses. They will be prepared.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Billing error costs district: A billing error at the Fort Myers Technical Center cost the Lee County School District $76,000 during the 2018-2019 school year, according to an audit. District officials said the error involved financial aid awards applied to student accounts, but there was no indication of an intent to defraud, said Ami Desamours, the district’s chief financial officer. There are 736 district students taking vocational training courses at Fort Myers Tech and elsewhere. Fort Myers News-Press.

Preschools still closed: Only five of the 11 Pinellas County Head Start preschool centers that were closed last week for mold problems are expected to reopen this week, according to the nonprofit organization that manages them. The 800 students who attend the Lutheran Services centers have had to find alternatives since Jan. 3. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Three Hillsborough County schools have new principals. Keith Fantauzzo is the new principal of Wilson Middle School, replacing Colleen Faucett, who is becoming a principal coach. Dina Wyatt will lead Jackson Elementary School, and Paulette English is taking over Pride Elementary. Gradebook.

District’s attorney put on leave: Mitchell Teitelbaum, the general counsel for the Manatee County School District, was  placed on paid administrative leave while district officials investigated allegations that he made inappropriate comments that amounted to sexual harassment. School board attorney Stephen Dye,who handled the investigation, said Teitelbaum would attend sensitivity training, receive a memo in his personnel file and would no longer serve as a public spokesman for the district. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

District fights ‘baseless’ suits: The Bay County School District has won about $267,000 in legal fees recently when courts have ruled that lawsuits brought against the district have been “baseless.” “In recent years we have seen a proliferation of lawsuits against the school board regarding employment matters — that seems to be the new ‘slip and fall,’ ” said the district’s attorney, Franklin Harrison. “It is taxpayers’ money they are trying to get and we think it is important to defend them, first, because most all of (the lawsuits) are baseless, and secondly, because it is taxpayers/ money and we need to convince people not to bring these kind of lawsuits.” Panama City News Herald.

Chopper puts down at school: A military helicopter from Savannah made an emergency landing Tuesday night on the grounds at Middleburg Elementary School in Clay County. No one was injured.  WJXT. WJAX.

Students and the law: A 14-year-old student at Lake Region High School in Polk County has been arrested and accused of assaulting a school administrator. The student refused to leave a classroom when asked to, then shoved the administrator before being wrestled to the ground by a school officer. Lakeland Ledger. A 12-year-old Putnam County student is in custody for allegedly having a loaded gun at C.H. Price Middle School in Interlachen. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis, the leader who boldly arrived on the scene one year ago, seems unwilling to spend some of the goodwill he’s earned to really drive Florida in the right direction when the state faces huge challenges in education, public and school safety, health care and the environment. Sun Sentinel. Gov. DeSantis delivered a sunny State of the State address Tuesday that promoted Florida’s successes and avoided divisive issues. Tampa Bay Times. Who says parents don’t always choose the best schools for their children? Catherine Durkin Robinson, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Sterling Reed, a senior at Gainesville High School, scored 93 percent on the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education English language exam to earn the “Top of the World” score. WCJB. Orlando’s Lake Nona High School was the only U.S. high school to present research projects at the 100th American Meteorological Society Conference in Boston. HaeJean Kwun, Henry Okonkwo, Matthew Fraze and Nathan Waskiewicz presented their research on lightning strikes and space launches, and weather-related deaths in Florida and the country. WKMG.

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BY NextSteps staff