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DeSantis wants $600M for teacher raises and $1,000 bonuses, mask mandates ending, and more

Education budget preview: Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that his education bill for the 2022-2023 fiscal year will include $600 million in raises for 3,600 public school principals and almost 180,000 fulltime classroom teachers, and another round of $1,000 bonuses for teachers and principals using federal COVID-19 relief funds. “When I became governor, the average minimum salary was around $40,000. Now it’s close to $47,000,” DeSantis said during a news conference at a Jacksonville charter school. He also said the budget would raise per-pupil spending to $8,000 (from about $7,800 this year), boost the base student allocation by $124, and provide $421 million for school safety and mental health initiatives, $15.5 million to replace the Florida Standards Assessments tests and create a progress monitoring system, $500,000 to expand the Florida civics and debate initiative, and $534 million to support workforce education programs. DeSantis has until Dec. 12 to present the full details of the budget he will recommend to lawmakers for the legislative session that begins Jan. 11. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Florida Times-Union. WKMG. WJXT. Even if DeSantis’ boost in spending for raises is approved, many Florida districts will be unable to reach his target of a minimum teaching salary of $47,500. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Alachua becomes the last district in the state to offer parental opt-outs to face mask mandates starting Friday, Polk school officials are making masks for students voluntary, Orange County schools are dropping their face mask mandate for teachers and other employees, Brevard students will get an extra two days off during Thanksgiving week, Duval Superintendent Diana Greene is rated highly effective by school board members, a bill is introduced that would require quicker decisions on charter school applications, the opening of contract negotiations in Sarasota County reveals a wide gap between the district’s first offer and the teachers union’s request, and a Taylor County School District investigation concludes former superintendent Danny Glover sexually harassed a coworker. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Face mask mandates are being relaxed at schools in the Archdiocese of Miami. Starting Monday, any fully vaccinated student or one with a PCR positive test within the last six months can opt-out of wearing a mask in school by showing proof to the school. Masks will continue to be mandatory indoors for students and employees who have not been vaccinated or can’t present proof of a COVID infection within the past six months. Teachers in K-6 will continue to wear masks even if they are vaccinated. WTVJ. A former band teacher at South Dade Senior High School was arrested last weekend and accused of lewd and lascivious battery on a child. School police said Andrew Zweibel, 33, kissed a 15-year-old student on the lips after a school banquet in 2016. WPLG.

Orange: Face masks are now optional for all teachers and other district employees, school officials said Wednesday. Volunteers and visitors will still be required to wear masks in schools. WMFE. WKMG. John Morris, the chief facilities officer for the school district since 2011, died Nov. 2 after an illness brought on by heart problems. He was 65. Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: Scores slipped slightly in school board members’ evaluation of Superintendent Diana Greene, but were still high enough for her to be rated “highly effective.” Her cumulative score from board members was 37.79 out of 48 possible points, down from last year’s score of 38.60. Warren Jones gave Greene her highest score, 43, while Charlotte Joyce gave her the lowest at 29. Areas that need improvement included, among other things, school safety, middle schools, and groundskeeping and maintenance on school campuses. In her self-evaluation, Greene said she wanted to focus on improving literacy rates and closing learning gaps that widened during the pandemic. Florida Times-Union. The 431 teaching vacancies in the district are the most in five years, according to district officials. And while there are more substitutes available, there still are not enough to fill both the open positions and teacher absences. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Face masks are now optional for all public school students after school board members voted this week to end the district’s mandatory mask policy. In other developments, Sara Beth Wyatt was elected board chair and Lisa Miller was elected vice chair; the board agreed to a 2 percent raise for all professional, technical and non-union employees; and a telehealth program will begin in a partnership with Hazel Health to provide students with advice on minor ailments as well as mental health counseling. Lakeland Ledger. Last October, the school district spent $820,000 to buy 50,000 plastic desk shields as protection for elementary school students against the spread of the coronavirus. Starting next week, they’ll be removing them unless a student’s parent requests that they remain in place for their child. The shields will be stored and available if needed in the future. Polk County School District.

Brevard: Thanksgiving break will be extended to a full week for district students, school officials said this week. The change must still be approved by the school board next week. Students were originally scheduled to be out of school Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during Thanksgiving week, with Monday and Tuesday designated as makeup days in case schools were closed by storms. But the hurricane season has been light and is nearing an end, and the days are not expected to be needed. Superintendent Mark Mullins said the extra time off could relieve some stress for students and employees. Florida Today.

Manatee: The number of reported COVID-19 cases continues to dwindle in the school district. Wednesday, school officials reported no cases among students and employees for the fourth time this month. Between Aug. 10 and Sept. 30, the average number of daily cases reported was about 150. WFLA. One person has been arrested by school district officers for making a threat against Braden River High School on social media. WWSB.

Sarasota: Contract negotiations between teachers and the school district have begun with a wide gap between opening proposals. School officials are offering teachers $2,500 bonuses instead of pay raises, and $1 an hour raises to hourly employees, while the union wants 6 percent pay raises across the board. Chief operations officer Jody Dumas said the district was “open to the conversation” of raises instead of bonuses, but cautioned against using the reserve fund as teachers are suggesting. More talks are scheduled throughout the month. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa: A former teacher and soccer coach at Ruckel Middle School in Niceville who was accused of having sex with a student from 2017 to 2020 has pleaded no contest and will serve 15 years in prison. Hayley Morgan Close, 35, who also goes by the name Hayley Hallmark, will be formally sentenced Jan. 18. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: Students will be allowed to opt-out of the district’s face mask mandate starting on Friday, the school board decided at a special meeting on Wednesday. And when students return to schools Jan. 4 after the winter break, masks will be optional. Alachua is the last district in the state to give parents the right to opt-out. Several board members said they expected the action will put the district in compliance with the state’s mask rules, and that the state will stop withholding money equal to the pay of board members and federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education that were made to cover the funds withheld by the state. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WGFL. Mainstreet Daily News.

Citrus: School board members have approved raising the supplement for school psychologists and speech language pathologists to $9,400, boosting supplements for extracurricular coaches and directors by 10 percent, and giving Teamsters and classified professional-technical employees 3 percent raises or an extra 75 cents an hour, whichever is higher. Citrus County Chronicle.

Taylor: Former Superintendent Danny Glover was under investigation on allegations of sexual harassment when he stepped down Oct. 8, according to a report released to the school board this week. The 42-page report from Jacksonville attorney John F. Dickinson, which was initiated in September, concluded that Glover sexually harassed a co-worker and threatened her job if she rejected him. Paul Dyal was named the interim superintendent until Gov. DeSantis appoints a replacement for Glover. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida is appealing a circuit court judge’s decision not to dismiss a potential class-action lawsuit that contends students should be refunded fees for the time they were forced to learn remotely during the pandemic. News Service of Florida. The University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business is partnering with Tampa-based McKibbon Hospitality to set up a teaching lab that will provide students with an opportunity to get practical experience in the hotel business. Tampa Bay Times.

In the Legislature: School board decisions on charter school applications would have to be made within 60 days after submission under a bill proposed by state Rep. Fred Hawkins, R-St. Cloud, for the legislative session that begins Jan. 11. Boards would also have to notify applicants when they’re denied, along with specific reasons for the denial. And charter school leaders would have to be notified 90 days before the end of a school year whether the school board intends to renew, terminate or not renew the charter. A companion bill was filed in the Senate by state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills. reimaginED. The state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights could be expanded and strengthened during next week’s special legislative session. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: A federal judge in Texas has ruled that Texas’ ban on face mask mandates in schools violates federal law protecting disabled students’ access to public education. The state said it would appeal. NPR.

Opinions on schools: We’ve made tremendous progress in Florida in expanding educational options for families. The growth is amazing. Still, there’s way, way, way too much complexity in these programs. We have to work together, all of us together, to figure out how we create more simplicity and elegance in these programs. Doug Tuthill, reimaginED. With the American Academy of Pediatrics declaring a national mental health emergency, is it time to consider expanding the “3 Rs” of education? Joan Wasser Gish, K-12 Dive. Florida Republicans created K-12 scholarship opportunities for parents, which overwhelmingly benefit children in minority communities. Improving educational opportunities and outcomes for every child is real social justice. State Rep. Paul Renner, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff