11.3% raise request, Cruz’s casual escape, book challenges, board elections, and more

Around the state: Pinellas County teachers are asking for raises of 11.3 percent to match the county’s cost-of-living increase in the past year, jurors in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz are shown surveillance videos of Cruz casually walking from the school to nearby businesses before being arrested, Clay County School Board members will consider updating the manual that details the process for filing complaints against school books after parents complain about it, Bay County schools are proposing a $610 million budget that’s higher than last year’s by $70 million, one district school board candidate is automatically re-elected while others make their pitches to voters, five new schools are opening next month in Orange County, and Brevard county commissioners are researching whether to stop paying to maintain the school district’s athletic fields. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: After killing 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and wounding 17 others, gunman Nikolas Cruz casually walked to a nearby sandwich shop and then to a McDonald’s before being arrested, according to surveillance videos shown to jurors at his sentencing trial Thursday. Testimony is expected to continue today. The trial is expected to last at least until October, and jurors will vote whether to recommend the death penalty for each person who died. If the vote on any victim is not unanimous, the sentence for that count will be life in prison. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. Summarizing what happened Thursday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. The school district is still looking to fill about 1,200 job openings, including about 430 for teachers. It’s holding a job fair July 29. Schools reopen Aug. 16. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVN.

Orange: Five new schools with a total enrollment of about 5,000 students will open next month. They are Hamlin Elementary, Hamlin Middle and Panther Lake Elementary in Winter Garden, Kelly Park School in Apopka and Stonewyck Elementary in Orlando. The total cost for the schools is $156.2 million. WFTV. WKMG. Orange County School District.

Palm Beach: At least 21 district schools will have a new principal when classes begin Aug. 10. Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Worth and Seminole Ridge high schools will have new leaders, as will 10 middle and eight elementary schools. All but one of the new principals are internal promotions. Typically, 10 to 20 schools get new principals every year. Palm Beach Post. Rolling Breen Elementary in Boynton Beach will be the first district school to have a Haitian Creole/English dual language program, starting in August. The program will begin with kindergarten students by teaching them in both languages. There are about 9,500 district students who identify Haitian Creole as their native or home language. WPTV.

Pinellas: The union representing Pinellas teachers said they deserve raises of 11.3 percent to match the cost-of-living increase in the county over the past year. Last year, teachers got average raises of 3.25 percent. “There is no disagreement that we need to raise (salaries),” said district chief finance officer Kevin Smith. “The question is how. … We will give as much as we can fiscally, responsibly give.” District counsel Laurie Dart said an 11.3 percent raise would cost the district $53 million, while budget officials said $18.4 million is available for teachers and all other employees. “So let’s be realistic based on the data,” she told the teacher negotiating team. Talks will continue, and both sides said they would like to have a contract agreement by the end of September. Tampa Bay Times. District 6 school board member Bill Dudley is not running for re-election, and three candidates are competing to replace him. Stephanie Meyer is supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ conservative education agenda in making her second try for a board seat. Chemical engineer Brian Martin and insurance employee Kim Works said part of the reason they’re running is to prevent Meyer from being elected. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A continuing shortage of school bus drivers could result in extra routes and more overtime for drivers, more crowded buses and late school arrivals, said Roger Lloyd, executive director of transportation for the district. Six years ago, he said, the district had 843 bus routes. Today it’s 664, and the district only has 595 drivers. “Over the years, we’ve been forced to cut each and every year,” Lloyd said. “I’m not going to stand up here and say things are going to be better next year. They’re not. We have less (bus drivers) than we did at the start of last year. So we’re going to be in for a tough year.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: The county commission voted this week to authorize commissioner John Tobia to research the possible elimination of an agreement to maintain the school district’s athletic fields or  the responsibility. “Employees who are tasked with maintaining the Brevard County Public School athletic fields could be tending to our own parks, and filling some of those voids that we have due to low staffing,” Tobia said. The county spends $800,000 a year maintaining the fields the school district owns under the agreement that began in 2008 and is scheduled to end in 2023. Florida Today.

Osceola: Students will be required to scan their ID badges when they get on and off school buses during the coming school year. The system will track the location of students, and help prevent them from getting on the wrong buses. WKMG. County commissioners have approved spending $2.1 million to create a manufacturing career and technical education academy at Liberty High School in Kissimmee. About 180 students are expected in the inaugural class. WFTV.

Lake: Ten-year District 1 school board member Bill Mathias has been automatically re-elected to another four-year term after no one filed to run against him. Mathias said preparing for a race and then not being challenged “felt like I was all dressed up with nowhere to go.” He said the focus of his next term will be getting the tax renewal approved by voters in November and improving student discipline. Daily Commercial.

St. Lucie: Candidates for the three school board seats up for election this fall say discipline, safety and academics are the primary issues they’ll be talking about during the campaign. In District 1, postal worker Brian Capp is challenging incumbent Debbie Johnson Hawley with a conservative agenda of rooting critical race theory out of lessons and banning books with sexually explicit material. District 3 incumbent Donna Mills is running against former teacher Donnita Graben, who wants more open dialogue among parents, educators and the school board. In District 5, board member Troy Ingersoll faces former educator and guidance counselor Arndrea Pressley Dampier, whose priority is recruiting and retaining teachers. TCPalm.

Clay: After hearing complaints from parents about the laborious process of filing a complaint about books in schools and the district’s directions to librarians reviewing them, school board members agreed to consider updating the manual that outlines the procedures. It’s expected to be ready by Aug. 4, and the board hopes to vote on it Sept. 8. WJAX.

Bay: The school district’s proposed budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year has been set at almost $610 million, an increase of more than $70 million over last year’s. District chief financial officer Jim Loyed said the increase is largely due to inflation and higher pay for employees. “We’re competing with everyone else and if everybody else is raising salaries, we’ll lose employees and we want to keep and hire new highly qualified teachers and support staff,” said Loyed. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida associate professor Yiannis Ampatzidis has created artificial intelligence technology that helps detect early signs of a disease that attacks watermelons. In 2020, about 27 percent of the U.S. market’s watermelon value came from Florida. Politico Florida. More than 100 Florida Atlantic University students will live in hotels during the fall semester due to a flood of requests to live on-campus because of high rents off-campus. WPTV. Manatee Technical College is receiving a $430,000 from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund that will be used to create a diesel systems technology course. Governor’s Office.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The state’s annual back-to-school tax “holiday” on clothes, school supplies, electronic devices and more starts Monday and continues through Aug. 7. Florida TaxWatch has estimated that Florida consumers could save $100 million. News Service of Florida.

The moms movement: Moms for Liberty is finding success attracting a following with its unusual combination of focusing on the positive message of empowering parents to have a voice in their children’s education and embracing conspiracy theories. Tampa Bay Times. USA Today Florida Network.

Opinions on schools: Whose parental rights and definition of appropriateness does banning books protect? Clearly, not the right of parents and students who want, and need, access to adequate sex ed. As the Miami-Dade County School Board embraces book banning, it’s a loud and noisy minority that’s getting the last word. Miami Herald. The Hillsborough County School District should have gotten its fiscal house in order before asking voters for more money. Tampa Bay Times. Even if administered in good faith to advance laudable objectives, a survey like Florida’s “intellectual viewpoint diversity” being distributed on college campuses is a clumsy and potentially dangerous strategy that threatens to politicize higher education at exactly the moment we must reinforce common ground. Amanda J. Phalin and Erin Ryan, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff