More districts urged to join guardian program, a pricey retreat, teachers driving buses and more

Pushing for guardians: Citing the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school in May, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri are urging school district leaders to improve security by joining the state’s armed guardian program. Forty-five of the state’s 67 districts do participate in the program, which arms trained guardians who are not sworn law-enforcement officers. “Show us where the guardians have done something wrong, where the guardian program hasn’t worked.” said Gualtieri, who leads the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which met Tuesday in Sunrise. “You have that doomsday worst-case-scenario that they would lead people to believe that these guardians are going to mess up – you’re going to have teachers pulling guns on kids, you’re going to have all these errors. You haven’t seen any of that. … We ask these districts that are opposed to it to give it some thought, give it some consideration.” The commission also said it wants to see more consistency in the ways schools assess threats, conduct active-shooter drills and report crimes. Politico Florida. Sun-Sentinel. News Service of Florida. WTSP. WSVN. WTVJ. WTVT.

Around the state: About $100,000 was recently spent by the Broward school district to send 188 administrators to a leadership retreat at the Ritz-Carlton resort in Naples, more parents give tearful testimony Tuesday about their children who died in the Parkland school shooting, Pinellas school librarians recommend five books be removed from shelves after reviewing the content in 94 books, Pasco’s superintendent is warning parents about increased penalties for students who misbehave, Bay’s school board approves a tentative $610 million budget, school board elections in several districts are previewed, and about a dozen teachers are driving school buses in Jackson County to help with staffing shortages. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Marta Perez, the school board member representing District 8 since 1998 and a former teacher, is being challenged on the ballot Aug. 23 for only the second time, and for the first time since 2014. Monica Colucci, a 49-year-old teacher, and Perez agree on such issues as school safety, mental-health services for students and higher teacher pay. But Perez supports the district’s upcoming referendum to increase property taxes to generate more funds that would support those initiatives, and Colucci does not. “There is a better way and that better way is to find within the $7 billion budget to properly compensate teachers and police officers,” Colucci said. Miami Herald.

Broward: District officials spent more than $100,000 to send 180 school principals and assistant principals to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples for a three-day leadership retreat July 22-25. School board member Sarah Leonardi is among the critics of the spending, especially at a time when the district is asking voters to approve a tax increase to improve staff salaries, security and mental health services. “We’re telling people we don’t have money for stuff. Then we apparently find money for this,” she said. District officials called it was a valuable professional development and team-building opportunity. Sun-Sentinel. WFOR. Tuesday was a second day of tearful testimony from parents who lost their children when Nikolas Cruz gunned them down during the 2018 Parkland school shooting. “I get to watch my friends, my neighbors, colleagues spend time enjoying their daughters, enjoying all the normal milestones, taking in the normal joys and I only get to watch videos or go to the cemetery to see my daughter,” said Dr. Ian Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was among the 17 victims. “We will always live with excruciating pain. We have an empty bedroom in our house. There is an empty chair at our dining table,” said Annika Dworett about her son Nick, 17. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WTVJ. Summarizing what happened Tuesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said he’s still interested in his department taking over school policing from the district. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: Fifteen candidates who are competing for four school board seats on the Aug. 23 ballot talk about their backgrounds and plans if elected. Chair Teresa Jacobs is being challenged by Demensio Barton and Carl Brewer, and District 1 incumbent Angie Gallo faces Rachel Kirby. In District 2, five candidates are competing to replace Johanna Lopez, who is running for a seat in the Florida House: Heather Ashby, George Collins, Maria Salamanca, Chad Aaron Spence and Jose Vicente. Five candidates are also running for the District 5 seat being vacated by Linda Kobert: Michael Daniels, Alican Farrant, Kila Murphey, Susanne Marie Pena and Dennis Smith.  Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: IDEA Public Schools, a charter school company, has bought the former west Jacksonville headquarters of the Vystar Credit Union for $12.65 million. The 12-acre property includes a four-story, 101,781-square-foot building and outdoor areas. Texas-based IDEA has 70,000 students in 137 schools in its home state, Florida and Louisiana. Jacksonville Daily Record.

Polk: District 6 school board incumbent Lynn Wilson decided against running for re-election, which means at least one newcomer will be added to the school board this year. Competing to replace Wilson are Sara Jones, 33, a lawyer, and Justin Sharpless, 38, an agriculture professor at Warner University in Lake Wales. Both come from families of educators, and they talk about their work experiences and what they’d like to do if elected. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: After closely examining 94 books, school librarians are recommending that five be removed from libraries and five others be temporarily taken out of circulation to undergo further review once the district receives state guidance on teaching about race, gender and political activism. The review was a pre-emptive move by the district that anticipated objections and targeted books with profanity and sexual situations to determine their literary value. Tampa Bay Times. The district will be the first in the state to use new safety technology in schools, officials said this week. The Active Law Enforcement Response Technology (ALERT) gives law enforcement immediate access to cameras, door locking systems and a public address system. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WFLA. District 3 school board candidate Carl Zimmermann talks about his qualifications, platforms and priorities. He’s running against Keesha Benson and Dawn Peters. Florida Politics.

Pasco: Superintendent Kurt Browning is warning parents that there will be increased consequences if their children misbehave in school this year. “We had over 60,000 referrals last year in the school district,” Browning said, about 50 percent more than the usual 40,000. “I will blame it on kids not being taught proper behavior before they get to the classroom.” He said teachers, bus drivers and other employees should not have to deal so often with unruly children. School board members expressed their support for Browning. “The No. 1 reason teachers I have talked to are considering leaving or have left is discipline,” said board member Alison Crumbley. “We have to address it.” Tampa Bay Times. All 3,639 school support employees would get raises of at least 5 percent under the district’s offer to raise pay to $15 an hour, as required by state law, and make it retroactive to July 1, which is not required. About 450 workers would get raises of 52 percent. Negotiations continue Thursday. Today, the district and the teachers union workers continue their talks. The union wants a 3.35 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a raise of 2.65 percent. The district has offered a cost-of-living increase of 0.85 percent. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The eight candidates running in three school board races talked about their qualifications and positions on issues at a recent community forum. In District 1, incumbent Misty Belford faces Megan Wright. In District 2, four candidates are competing to replace the departing Cheryl McDougall: Erin Dunne, Courtney Lewis, Shawn Overdorf and Gene Trent. Incumbent Katye Campbell faces a challenge from Kim Hough for the District 5 seat. The primary is Aug. 23. Florida Today.

Marion: All students in 52 district schools have been deemed automatically eligible to receive free breakfasts and lunches this school year, district officials have announced. The program is a partnership between the school district and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WGFL.

Clay: Law enforcement agencies have collaborated with the school district to create a “customized response plan” for specific security emergencies. The Clay County Hazards Incident Response Plan, or CHIRP, incorporates the security recommendations from the state school safety commission with local critical incident responses on such things as lockdowns, police response and medicate treatment procedures. Florida Times-Union.

Leon: Sabal Palm Elementary School in Tallahassee has earned the University of Central Florida’s designatioon as certified community partnership school. It becomes one of 13 such schools in the state, and is now eligible for continued funding from UCF to develop programs to help with chronic student absenteeism, parent engagement and explore additional community partnerships beyond the already-offered resources such as mental health counseling, mentoring and job training, health care, food pantry, clothing closet, tutoring, mentoring and more. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: District 1 school board member Tina Certain is running for re-election against Daniel Fisher in the Aug. 23 primary. Certain, 54, was first elected in 2018. She promises accountability for all money spent and is an advocate for educational equity and greater parental involvement. Fisher, 55, is an Air Force veteran and teaches social studies in the Levy County School District. He wants to focus on early childhood education, and also wants more parents to get involved in the schools. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: Students will have to apply to see if they’re eligible this year for free or reduced-price meals in county schools. All students got free meals last year, but funding for the federal program has ended and students’ families now must meet family income requirements. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: School board members approved a tentative $610 million budget at Tuesday’s meeting. That’s $70 million more than last year’s. The district’s proposed millage rate was dropped from 5.84 to 5.5. “The state actually sets that required local effort, which is less,” said district chief financial officer Jim Loyed. “They’re able to lower that rate because of the increase in property values. You obviously multiply the rate times the value of all the property to get your revenue. The property value has increased enough that you can lower the rate and still generate more money.” WJHG.

Charlotte: School board members unanimously approved policy changes to bring the district into compliance with two recently approved state laws that ban the teaching of critical race theory and the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-3. “The Legislature makes the law; it’s our job to make sure that there are policies to enact those,” said board member Kim Amontree. WFTX.

Jackson: About a dozen teachers and coaches are driving school buses to help the district cover open routes. “I have probably 10 to 12 teachers and coaches that are driving,” said Superintendent Steve Benton. “I’ve got two directors here that drive every day from the county office. Mechanics are driving, the manager of the bus barn is driving and we are fixing to probably put some principals in driving.” WMBB. The county’s fire department has donated 10 automated external defibrillators to the district that will be distributed to schools. Each school will now have at least two, and some have up to seven. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: The new regional chancellor for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, Christian Hardigree, said some new hires are turning down jobs because of the high cost of housing. A solution being considered is temporary subsidized housing. Tampa Bay Times. Florida A&M trustees agreed Tuesday to spend $14 million to buy property nearby to add almost 250 more beds for students. Three apartments with 118 beds are on the property, and the school plans to build another building with 128 beds. Tallahassee Democrat. Robert Flippo, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Boca Raton based MobileHelp LLC, has been appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees. Florida Atlantic University.

Around the nation: The latest compromise on President Biden’s “Build Back Better” program cuts out a pledge for the federal government to pay for two years of free preschool and cut families’ child care costs. The bill still could be amended before a vote. The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff