Hillsborough’s budget crisis, teacher pay, school choice, school meals, in-person learning, and more

Around the state: Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis says if the district continues its deficit spending it will run out of money in June, state school districts have overspent their budgets by a collective $370 million to feed students during the pandemic, two districts approve higher wages for starting teachers and another will consider doing so today, an elementary school teacher in Duval County and a basketball coach in Orange County have died of complications from the coronavirus, the Volusia County School Board postpones a vote on creating a district police force, the Palm Beach County School District calendar for the 2021-2022 academic year would shorten the summer break to less than two months, Duval’s school board approves outdoor graduations this spring, and more students continue to choose in-person instruction over remote learning. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The second semester that begins today will include more students in schools and less social distancing. Only about 26 percent of Broward students attended school in the first semester, the lowest percentage of any state district. That number could jump to 39 percent or so as thousands of students struggling with remote learning have been encouraged by the district to return to classrooms, though the exact number is unclear. “Some parents and students are taking a wait-and-see attitude about whether it will be different,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “They don’t want to be warehoused and sitting in a gym or an auditorium. They want to be sure they’re in a classroom interacting with a teacher.” Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: School district expenses are far exceeding revenues, and Superintendent Addison Davis said at Tuesday’s school board workshop meeting that the district will run out of money in June if it doesn’t make significant changes. He and other district officials said cutting the workforce by 2,000 jobs, having employees take furlough days, closing and consolidating schools, and making cuts in security and transportation are among the things that will have to be considered to close the deficit. Davis also said the deficit spending hasn’t produced academic results. Twenty-four schools received D or F grades from the state in the most recent round of grading, far more than districts with a comparable number of employees. “We have to really look and question the return on investment,” he told the board. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. The district and health officials are working on a plan to vaccinate teachers. WFTS. Two schools are getting new principals. Rob Nelson will replace David Brown at Sumner High School in Balm. Brown is taking a job with the district. And Denise Wheatley is the new principal of Roosevelt Elementary School in South Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. Latoya McGhee, the principal at the IDEA Victory Vinik Campus charter school that opens next fall, talks about her background and the goals of the school. It’s one of two charters the IDEA Public Schools is opening this year in Hillsborough County. redefinED.

Orange: School board members are sending a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to move teachers and other school employees up on the priority list for being vaccinated against the coronavirus. If he won’t do that, the letter urges him to allow those workers who have underlying medical conditions to be vaccinated along with people in the over-65 group. WKMG. Earl Graham, an assistant basketball coach at Apopka High School, has died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 70. WOFL.

Palm Beach: School board members will vote today on a proposed contract that would set the base pay for teachers at $47,500 and provide 3.5 percent increases for about 8,000 teachers who are making close to that or more. About $31.8 million of the $44.5 million needed to boost salaries would come from the state’s $500 million initiative, and the rest would be taken from district reserves. Palm Beach Post. The proposed calendar for the 2021-2022 school year would shorten the summer break to less than two months. The last day of school this year is June 18, because the start of the year was pushed back three weeks by the pandemic, and the first day for the next academic year would be Aug. 10. The board will vote on the calendar at the Jan. 20 meeting. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: A longtime elementary school teacher in Jacksonville has died of complications from the coronavirus, district officials announced Tuesday. Deborah Menendez-Holloway taught 2nd- and 3rd-graders at Arlington Elementary School. It’s the third death of a teacher from COVID-19 in the past month. WJXT. School board members have approved the district’s plan to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies on school football fields this spring. By making the decision early, district officials hope to avoid last year’s last-minute scrambling because of the coronavirus pandemic, and to give schools time to prepare for a safe, socially distanced event. Ceremonies will be held in late May and June and nearly all will be scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. The board also approved the agreement to raise starting teacher pay from $39,000 to $45,891. Teachers who were already at $45,891 will get minimal raises. WJAX.

Polk: A middle school teacher was arrested Tuesday when she was found asleep in her car with meth in a syringe in the passenger seat. Deputies said Robin Ramos, 40, was found in a gas station parking lot in Lakeland at 1 a.m. The Kathleen Middle School math teacher has been placed on administrative leave. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFLA.

Pasco: Nena Green, the principal of Pasco Elementary School, has been named the principal at Wiregrass Elementary. She replaces Steve Williams, who is moving to Pine View Middle as an assistant principal. Two jobs for principals are now open: at Pasco Elementary to replace Green and at Denham Oaks Elementary to replace longtime leader Mardee Kay Powers. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: District officials are reducing the number of sites where they’re offering curbside meal distribution. As of Feb. 2, meals will be available Tuesdays and Thursdays at 13 county schools. WKMG.

Volusia: The school board has postponed a vote on creating a district police department until the issue can be more thoroughly discussed at a workshop meeting. “The decision to start a police department is one that must be carefully considered,” said board member Ruben Colon. Daytona Beach News-Journal. High school students are receiving their take-home laptops from the district this week, and middle school students will get theirs next week. The distribution is part of the district’s drive to put a laptop in the hands of every student. Elementary students will receive either a laptop or an iPad this summer. WOFL. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School board members have approved a contract between the district and its teachers that raises the minimum pay to more than $46,400. Eligible teachers will get an increase of three pay-levels pay increase, and those with 16 years or more of experience will get raises of $2,100 while 25-year veterans get $3,600. Paraprofessionals are being moved up a pay level, with a boost of 10 cents an hour at every level. Workers at the top of the salary schedule will get a 2 percent raise. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

Collier: More than 88 percent of Collier’s students are expected to be learning in school classrooms when the second semester begins next week, despite a surge in the number of coronavirus cases reported in the district. Students who weren’t making adequate academic progress have been encouraged to return to school. About 23 percent of students in grades 3-12 received one or more failing grades in the first quarter, which is 10 percentage points higher than the same period in the 2019-2020 school year. Naples Daily News.

Lake: School board members joined others from around the state in urging Gov. DeSantis to make coronavirus vaccines available for teachers and other front-line school employees soon. “We’ve all been reminded of how essential our school employees are, especially in time of crisis,” the letter said. “They have been on the front lines, making sure students receive food, transportation, instruction and other vital services. Let’s show them how much they are valued by officially identifying them as essential employees.” Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: More than 320 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in district schools in the week since students returned from the holiday break. That number exceeds the total from the first 11 weeks of the school year. “There has been in increase in cases among school age children; however, there continues to be limited evidence of transmission in the school setting,” said health official Steve Huard. “The bulk of transmission appears to be associated with case contact outside of schools.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Despite a surge in coronavirus cases, students are increasingly choosing to switch from remote learning to in-person instruction. In the Santa Rosa district, about 1,100 students are making the change. Escambia is still sorting through requests. Both districts have encouraged students struggling with online instruction to return to classrooms. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: About 250 school district employees over the age of 65 will receive coronavirus vaccinations this weekend, Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced Tuesday. Hanna wondered at a community meeting this week why over-65 employees at Florida State and Florida A&M universities had been vaccinated while the school district’s hadn’t. WTXL. Nims Middle School in Tallahassee has started a pre-law magnet program. Students will study the history of law, the judicial system, forensic science and policymaking. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: The principal of Archer Elementary School has been placed on administrative leave while the district investigates complaints about her. The nature of the allegations against Stella Arduser were not released, and won’t be until 10 days after the investigation is completed. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: District officials are proposing a technology “refresh” for the district, which would be funded by the extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters. Tamra Hogue, the supervisor for instructional technology and media services, said most of the technology in classrooms is 10 years old. WJHG. A zoning plan has been proposed for the new Walsingham Academy in Panama City Beach. The map follows the line between the city and Bay County. The school will open in fall for pre-K through 2nd-grade students, and add a grade level each year. Pre-K students now at Arnold High School will move to Walsingham in August. WJHG.

Glades: Brian Greseth has been named director of administrative services for the district by Superintendent Alice Barfield. Greseth has been working as a guidance counselor at South Elementary School in Okeechobee County. He starts his new job Jan. 20. Glades County News.

Colleges and universities: Trustees at the University of South Florida have approved budget cuts totaling $36.7 million. Permanent faculty won’t be affected, but the number of adjunct and visiting professors will be thinned and other school employees will be laid off. Faculty jobs that open through retirement also won’t be filled, starting in July. Tampa Bay Times.

School meals crunch: Feeding students through the coronavirus pandemic has put Florida school districts in a $370 million bind, and a search for money to help has run into a political feud. Nikki Fried, the Democratic agriculture commissioner, wants to use federal coronavirus relief money to help pay for meals. “What could be more important than prioritizing that kids who need food continue to get what they need?” Fried said. But Gov. DeSantis, a Republican, has ignored her requests. His aides said districts may use the federal relief money for meals and some are, but Fried said she doesn’t know of any school food service departments receiving funds. Districts are expected to raise the issue at today’s state Board of Education meeting. Politico Florida.

In the Legislature: Expanding school choice was the primary topic of discussion in the Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday. Florida Department of Education Senior Chancellor Eric Hall said choice expands the “large menu of options” parents have for their children. “It’s not just about closing gaps, it’s about opportunity in the long term,” he said. “There’s no one better than parents to know what’s best for their child.” Florida Politics. A bill has been filed with the Legislature that would require the state to cover the costs of dual-enrollment programs for private-school students. S.B. 52 is sponsored by state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, and is nearly identical to previous versions that did not clear the Legislature. redefinED. How to spot signs of human trafficking and its dangers would be taught in Florida’s schools under a bill filed this week by state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. S.B. 554 sets a minimum curriculum, would require educators to provide resources to students and also teach students how to avoid alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse. Florida Politics.

Personnel moves: Tom Grady of Naples and Monesia Brown of Tallahassee have been appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. DeSantis. Grady is a lawyer who has been on the board since 2015. He is chairman of Quest for Success and the chief investment strategist for PureAssets Management Co. Brown is Walmart’s director of public affairs and government relations, and has worked as general counsel to the Florida Department of Management Services and as the chief cabinet aide for the Florida attorney general. Florida Politics.

Spring education plans: Sixty-six school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state since Monday were plans for the Glades, Hamilton and Jefferson districts. Florida Department of Education.

More on graduation rates: Here are more reports on high school graduation rates in districts around the state. WFSU. Charlotte Sun. Daily Commercial. Spectrum News 13.

Around the nation: Bringing students back to where they were academically before the pandemic set in could cost as much as $13,500 per student over the next five years, according to estimates by Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting company that advises districts on financial matters. The 74. New COVID-19 strains have been reported in Florida and several other states. Will that mean we’ll see more cases in schools? Education Week.

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BY NextSteps staff