School board term limits, records exemptions, budget cuts for 12 districts opposed, and more

School board term limits: Members of the Florida House voted 78-40 on Thursday to approve a bill that would set eight-year term limits for local school board members and give parents of students more say in the selection of school library books and instructional materials. “What this bill is seeking to do is provide transparency to reinforce for parents the security and confidence that comes with knowing they can drop their kids off at the local library and be comfortable where they are,” said state Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, who sponsored the bill. S.B. 1300, the companion bill in the Senate, differs from the House bill by advocating salary cuts for local school board members but not including term limits. It must still be approved by that chamber’s rules committee before it goes to a full Senate vote. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Presidential search exemption: Thursday, the full Senate approved a public records exemption for information about candidates for college presidential jobs. The bill would shield all information about candidates for up to 21 days before a final selection is made or when finalists are announced. “This is actually going to create a better process for the state,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the bill sponsor. “We’re going to have the broadest pool of people applying for the state system.” A similar version in the House, still in committee, would set the time limit at 14 days. Brandes has said the Senate won’t budge on the 21-day time limit. At least five state universities — Florida International University, the University of South Florida, the University of Florida, the University of North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University — are or will soon be looking for new leaders. Miami Herald. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. Politico Florida.

Cuts to districts criticized: A proposal in the House budget to strip 12 school districts of $200 million because they defied the state’s ban on face mask mandates has drawn a powerful opponent in the Senate. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who chairs that chamber’s education budget committee and the state Republican party, announced this week that he opposes the reduction. “We need every dollar,” Gruters said. His school district would lose $12 million if the House budget is adopted. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who proposed the “adjustments,” has defended the cuts, saying districts have to follow the law or be held accountable. Alachua school officials said this week the district would lose $2 million if the cuts stand, and Indian River County officials said their district would be out $1.3 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUFT. Gainesville Sun. TCPalm.

Also in the Legislature: The Florida House approved a local bill Thursday that would ask Lee County voters to decide in November if they wanted to elect a school superintendent or continue to have one appointed by the school board, as has been the case since 1974. The bill now heads to the Senate. If approved, it would go on the November ballot. If approved by voters, the first election for a superintendent would be in 2024. Florida Politics. A second Senate committee has approved a proposal to increase the homestead exemption for the state’s teachers, first responders and members of the military. The bill and its House companion each have to clear one more committee. Florida Politics. Members of the House approved two related measures (S.B. 96 and S.B. 98) that would create a $500 million fund the governor could tap in case of a state emergency. The bills were approved last month by the Senate. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A Pasco County teacher was critically injured Thursday when she was hit by a vehicle in a school parking lot, Jose Dotres will become superintendent of the Miami-Dade County schools Monday and be paid $373,000 a year through February 2024, a petition to change the name of Melbourne High School has been withdrawn, Charlotte’s school board has asked county commissioners to place the renewal of a 1-mill tax for schools on the November ballot, Flagler school board members approve a school impact fee that is more than the district collects now but less than originally proposed, and Lee County has named its school-related employee of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: New school Superintendent Jose Dotres will assume command of the district Monday and be paid $373,000 a year through Feb. 14, 2024, according to a contract agreement reached this week. He will also receive $900 a month for expenses, a car and a cell phone. For Dotres, the contract represents a $173,000-a-year raise from his current salary as deputy superintendent of the Collier County School District. The district also reached a separation agreement with Alberto Carvalho, whose last day is Sunday. He will lead the Los Angeles school district. Miami Herald. Prosecutors said they have dropped the charges against 27-year-old Aaron Hamid, a former teacher at John A. Ferguson Sr. High School who was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student, because of a lack of evidence. WSVN.

Broward: Newly appointed Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said her first priorities will be to address student learning losses from the pandemic, and to appoint chiefs for security and safety, facilities and academics. “Those are the … things that we have to pay attention to as a school district in making sure that we provide a safe and secure environment and providing that top-quality academic education,” she said. WPLG.

Lee: Catherine Mayorga, a media paraprofessional at Colonial Elementary School in Fort Myers, has been chosen as the school district’s school-related employee of the year. WFTX. Lee County School District. Albert Shilling, principal at the district’s virtual school, has been arrested and accused of felony eavesdropping. Deputies said Shilling used his cell phone to to record audio of another person during a private meeting at district headquarters. In Florida, in most cases, both parties must agree to have a a conversation recorded. Shilling also was arrested last fall on a charge of battery, but it was later dropped. WBBH. WINK.

Pasco: A teacher at Anclote High School was critically injured Thursday morning when she was hit by a sport utility vehicle and pinned under it in the school parking lot. Ciara McKeon, a 28-year-old physical education teacher and the girls tennis coach, was flown to Tampa General Hospital. “Though her condition is serious, we have reason to be hopeful for her recovery,” the school district said in a statement. The 24-year-old man driving the SUV told troopers he didn’t see McKeon.  Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Brevard: A petition to change the name of Melbourne High School has been withdrawn after a year and a half of acrimonious debate. In 2020, Hispanic activist Sam Lopez brought a petition to the school board that advocated renaming  Melbourne High after Joseph Acaba, an astronaut who taught at the school during the 1999-2000 school year. Some critics contended Acaba’s ties to the school weren’t strong enough to justify the change, and others simply didn’t want the name changed. Lopez died in 2021, and Tuesday his widow, Teresa Lopez, withdrew the petition. At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Matt Susin said he spoke to Acaba, who said he wasn’t interested in the name change. Florida Today.

Collier: How did a district teacher get away with molesting elementary students for more than three years before being arrested? An investigation suggests that authorities were not notified promptly when reports of abuse were made, as required by law, and that no one in the district put all the reports together. Before he was arrested, Hector Manley had molested at least 20 children, some as young as 5 years old. Naples Daily News. Child abuse statistics kept by a nonprofit suggest that Manley’s offenses were the second-most by a Florida educator in recent years. Naples Daily News.

Marion: School board chair Eric Cummings has announced he will run for re-election this August to his District 3 seat. He has not yet drawn an opponent. Ocala Star-Banner. A student project developed by the Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School Student Spaceflight Experiments Program will travel into space this summer aboard a SpaceX rocket. The experiment questions the effect of microgravity on the amount of ethanol produced by yeast fermentation. The experiment will spend six to eight weeks in orbit. WGFL.

Charlotte: School board members agreed this week to ask county commissioners to place a renewal of a school tax referendum on the November ballot. The extra 1-mill tax was first approved in 2018, and has raised more than $32 million so far, which the district uses to hire staff, make school repairs, buy supplies and more. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: School board members decided this week to adopt a school impact fee of $5,450 on new single-family homes, up from the current $3,600 but lower than the $7,175 originally proposed. Collection of the new fee starts Sept. 1. Flagler Live. A school bus driver was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence. Deputies said Mark McNeil, 60, had 40 students on his bus when he radioed in to say he was having a medical emergency. He was transported to a hospital and arrested when his blood alcohol test registered four times the legal limit. The incident happened just two days after McNeil was cited for running a stop sign and hitting a car while transporting 23 students on his bus. Flagler Live. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. WESH. WJAX. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Monroe: Katrina Madok, a 5th-grade/gifted science teacher at Gerald Adams Elementary School in Key West, is one of 117 U.S. teachers selected by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She won $10,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C. Florida Keys Weekly.

Around the nation: A new decade-long study suggests that students who got into free, public pre-K programs initially make greater academic progress than students who didn’t. But those results turned around by the time the students were in 3rd grade, and accelerated as they got older. Dale Farran, the co-author of the study, said the study shows that too much pressure is on pre-K programs, and the country might see better results simply by letting children play. NPR.

Opinions on schools: The country cannot afford to return to a past that ignores the pain that black people have endured, nor all the success. That’s why Black History Month still matters. Larry J. Walker, Orlando Sentinel. A new charter school at Santa Fe College should build on, and not duplicate, already existing local workforce training programs. Gainesville Sun. State Sen. Dennis Baxley, another freedom-loving Republican lawmaker in the Legislature, is never shy about sponsoring looney laws. This year it’s the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which is pandering of the highest order. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Gov. Ron DeSantis, with his focus on dog whistle phrases like academic freedom and critical race theory, has set his sights on issues that do not exist. Michael Murphy, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff