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School book scrutiny, superintendent and school board salaries, SAT going online only, and more

Reviewing school books: A bill that would change the process of selecting books for school classrooms and libraries was approved Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 1300, which is sponsored by state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, would add requirements to be met before books and learning materials can be approved, and make the process more visible to the public. For instance, elementary schools would have to publish on their websites, “in a searchable format,” all books and materials in the school’s media centers or that are part of class reading lists. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. WUSF. S.B. 1300 would also set the salaries of school board members at $18,000 a year. That would constitute a cut in pay for board members in 49 of Florida’s 67 school districts, and a nearly 50 percent cut for members in a handful of the state’s largest districts. Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix.

Also in the Legislature: School superintendents whose district or charter schools are not complying with state school safety requirements would have their salaries withheld under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee. Another part of the bill would require each school to have a plan to unify students with their parents after an emergency. Florida Politics. A bill has been filed that would provide teachers higher homestead property exemptions. If approved, it would go before voters in November. News Service of Florida. A bill that would streamline the state scholarship application approval process was approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 1348 would also make other minor adjustments to H.B. 7045, which was approved by the Legislature last year. reimaginED. A bill that would expunge records of juveniles for most nonviolent crimes won the unanimous approval of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Politico Florida. A bill requiring school districts to identify staff shortages and take steps to fill the open positions was approved Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee. News Service of Florida. Five bills are moving through the Legislature that would affect LGBTQ students, including one that seeks to limit conversations about gender and sexual orientation in schools. Sun Sentinel.

Testing questions: SAT tests will go digital in 2024 and will be cut from three hours to two, College Board officials announced Tuesday. Students taking the test will be permitted to use their own laptops or devices, but will still have to report to designated test sites. “The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, a vice president of the College Board. “We’re not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform. We’re taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible.” Associated Press. NPR. A bill filed for the legislative session would make changes to the state’s test assessments, but how much won’t be known unless the bill is approved in the session that is scheduled to end March 11. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Broward school board members select four finalists for the superintendent’s job, Hillsborough officials are asking the state for leniency on school grade accountability for students’ scores in statewide testing, St. Johns school officials say they will add 120 portable classrooms in the fall to accommodate growing enrollment, Palm Beach and Hernando schools both select a teacher of the year, three finalists are chosen for the Alachua school district’s teacher of the year award, more than 81,000 Florida students have applied to receive free books under the $177 million New Worlds Reading Initiative adopted by the state last year, and U.S. News & World Report ranks Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Florida as the top two online bachelor’s degree programs in the country. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Jose Dotres wants to take a “temperature check” of the school district on his first day as superintendent. Specifically, he wants to focus on what programs the district has in place to stem learning loss created by the pandemic, how it’s supporting teachers and other employees, and what mental health resources are available for students. Dotres, 59, was hired Monday to replace Alberto Carvalho, who is leaving Feb. 3 to lead the Los Angeles school system. Miami Herald. WTVJ.

Broward: School board members cut the field of candidates for the superintendent’s job from eight to four during a meeting Monday. The finalists are interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright; Keith Oswald, chief of wellness and equity for Palm Beach County schools; Peter Licata, regional superintendent for Palm Beach County schools; and Michael Gaal, former deputy chancellor for Washington, D.C., Public Schools. All nine board members voted for Cartwright. Oswald received six votes, Licata five and Gaal four. The finalists will be interviewed Feb. 2. The field will then be narrowed to two, who will be interviewed Feb. 8 and then attend a community meeting. A final decision is scheduled Feb. 9. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. Miami Herald. WSVN. Caps and gowns for graduating high school seniors will cost 32 percent less this year, the school board decided Tuesday. The vote came after an investigation into the past bidding and administrative practices of the district’s exclusive vendor. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: District officials are asking the state for leniency on accountability measures for schools based on students’ end-of-year test performance. The number of teachers and students who have already missed 10 or more days of schools so far this school year is up 10 percent over the entire 2020-2021 school year. “The inability to provide consistent instruction has created inequitable conditions to ensure that students close the exacerbated learning gaps and understand grade-level concepts,” board chair Nadia Combs and Superintendent Addison Davis wrote in a letter to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. They don’t want to kill assessments tests, but do want schools to have the choice whether to receive a school grade from the state based on the results. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Bay News 9. The district’s financial picture continues to worsen as more students use state scholarship money to attend private schools. Chief financial officer Romaneir Johnson said Tuesday that while federal coronavirus relief funds have helped the budget picture, the operating deficit has grown from $61 million last year to $89.6 million this year. She projects the district will have an $18 million unrestricted end-of-year reserve, which is $12 million short of what the state requires. Asking voters for a special school tax is a possible solution, but there’s doubt among board members that it would pass. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Annabel Wagner, a resource teacher and dual-language coach at Greenacres Elementary School, has been named the district’s teacher of the year. Robera Walker, whose leadership has helped Belle Glade Elementary improve its state grade from an F to a C, was named the principal of the year. Amber Saunders of Jupiter High was chosen as assistant principal of the year, and Connie Leonardi, an administrative assistant at New Horizons Elementary, was named school-related employee of the year. Palm Beach Post.

Lee: Low water pressure has forced bathrooms to be closed at Dunbar Middle School and Ray V. Pottorf Elementary School in Fort Myers, and portable toilets are being placed at the schools. WINK. An Estero couple will go to prison after they pleaded guilty Tuesday to selling Florida teacher-certification test information. Kathleen M. Jasper, 43, received 10 months in prison and Jeremy M. Jasper, 41, got four months after they pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets between 2016 and 2020. Fort Myers News-Press. News Service of Florida.

Osceola: Five Celebration High School students were hospitalized Tuesday after ingesting “edible gummies,” according to district officials. A 18-year-old student was arrested and charged with contributing to a minor possession of CBD oil and a Vape pen. WKMG.

St. Johns: With student enrollment booming by another 7 percent this year, district officials said that they plan to add 120 portable classrooms to 16 schools next year. Long-term, the district will add four new schools in the next five years. Attendance zones in the northwest corner of the county could also be realigned, according to board members. WJXT.

Manatee: A candidate has dropped out of the race for the District 2 seat on the school board seat because redistricting has placed his home outside the district. David Levin said he now intends to run for the Ward 2 seat on the Bradenton City Council. Levin’s move leaves former city council member Harold Byrd Jr. as the only declared candidate for the District 2 seat. Charlie Kennedy, who has held the seat since 2014, isn’t running for re-election. Bradenton Herald.

Escambia: A 15-year-old Ferry Pass Middle School student is under investigation for allegedly having a taser and a steak knife at school last week. Deputies said staff member tipped the school resource officer, who allegedly found the student with the items. WEAR.

Leon: The release of an updated LGBTQ guide and the approval of the Student and Parent Bill of Rights policy has been put on hold so a newly formed school committee can gather more input from the community. “The Parents Bill of Right and amending out LGBTQ+ guide go hand in hand to ensure that we are protecting our students and giving them the support they need at school,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Both were updated after the state adopted a new law on parental rights last year. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Okaloosa: About 10 percent of the district’s teacher were sick last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, according to district officials. The number of instructional absences was 200, 189 and 200. The district has 1,904 teachers. Northwest Florida Daily News. One student suffered minor injuries Tuesday when an SUV ran into the back of a school bus in Crestview. Seventeen students were on the bus. The driver of the SUV also was hospitalized with minor injuries, and charged with careless driving and driving with a suspended license. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: Three finalists have been chosen for the district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Nicole Duncan, a 1st-grade teacher at the Rawlings Center for Fine Arts; Todd Eckstein, director of music at Lincoln Middle School; and Kendra Vincent, an English teacher at Buchholz High School. The winner will be announced Thursday. Mainstreet Daily News. WGFL.

Hernando: Lt. Cmdr. Christian Cruz, the leader of Central High School’s Naval Junior ROTC program, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Tampa Bay Times.

Putnam: Three students were taken to a hospital for treatment after their school bus was struck by a vehicle Tuesday morning. Eight Palatka Junior-Senior High School students were on the bus at the time of the accident. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating. WTLV. WJXT. WJAX.

Glades: A 17-year-old Moore Haven Middle-High School student was arrested Tuesday and is accused of having a gun on campus. Deputies were tipped to the gun by a police dog during a random drug search of student backpacks. They also found ammunition and drug paraphernalia in the boy’s bag. WINK. WFTX. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: The top two online bachelor’s degree programs in the country belong to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Florida, according to rankings from U.S. News & World Report. The University of Central Florida also was in the top 10, finishing in a tie for seventh. Orlando Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WCJB. The contract of Mark Rosenberg, who resigned Friday as president of Florida International University after acknowledging he’d made a young female colleague “uncomfortable” with his advances, could allow him to return to the school as a professor and be paid $377,000 a year. Miami Herald.

Books for students: More than 81,000 Florida students have applied to receive free books under the $177 million New Worlds Reading Initiative adopted by the state last year. Monthly books will be sent to K-5 students who are reading below their grade level. WPTV. WKMG. Capitol News Service.

Opinions on schools: The selection of Jose Dotres as school superintendent was the conclusion of an imperfect process, and Dotres will have to contend with the ramifications of the board’s decision. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff