Pushing tax measures, contract agreement, school board election previews, school suits and more

Around the state: The many districts around the state that are asking voters to increase taxes have to walk a fine line between educating voters about the issues and advocating for their passages, Brevard County’s teachers and the district reach an agreement that will give teachers their highest raises in six years, Osceola’s school board wins an administrative law hearing over the closing of a charter school, Hernando’s school board loses a court action over the date set for its tax measure, Gov. Ron DeSantis appoints an adjunct college professor to the Columbia County School Board, and school board elections in several districts are previewed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Three candidates are trying to step into the District 4 seat on the school board, which is opening this month for the first time since 1996 because of the retirement of Perla Tabares Hantman. Running are Roberto Alonso, 42, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 to a four-year term as a member of the Miami Dade College Board of Trustees; Maribel Balbin, 64, the CEO and president of a firm specializes in voter engagement services and government relations; and Kevin Menendez Macki, 41, who taught at two elementary schools in the district before becoming the principal at Horeb Christian School. Miami Herald.

Broward, south Florida: South Florida school districts that are trying to sell higher tax measures to voters have to be careful to follow a state law that allows them to spend taxpayer money to “educate” voters about proposed tax increase but not to “advocate” for them. “It’s definitely a challenge to ensure we’re in compliance, because even if you’re not saying how to vote, what you say might be construed as trying to sway the vote,” said John Sullivan, Broward’s public information officer. Sun-Sentinel. A career fair Friday for jobs in the Broward school district drew as many as 3,000 people, and about 760 people were hired or targeted for hiring. Among them were 213 teachers, about half of the number needed. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVN. The Parkland school shooting trial has presented a broader but still limited public view of the destruction caused by a mass shooter because most of them die during or immediately after the attack. Testimony resumes today. Associated Press.

Orange: About 113,000 electronic devices will be handed out to students in grades 6-12 when classes resume this month, according the district officials. The exceptions are Horizon High, Lake Buena Vista High and Water Spring Middle, which got their devices last year. WFTV.

Duval: A district teacher is raising questions about a new school safety app. The app, called Raptor Alert, allows teachers to directly report issues. But the teacher said the password needed for access must be changed every 90 days, something district officials said is necessary “to protect against hackers and other computer security threats.” Updating a password could cause delays during an emergency. “If there’s an emergency, for instance how many of us are going to remember at that moment what our school password is because we have to change that every 90 days?” she asked. WJAX.

Polk: School officials are making a $12 million offer on a 100-acre piece of property in the far eastern part of the county, with the intention of building a high school to relieve overcrowding in and around Haines City. “We estimated that we would be almost at 117,000 students this year, so our growth has been exponential,” said Superintendent Frederick Heid. “We have high schools across the region that are reaching capacity. Utilization of our high schools is incredibly high.” Lakeland Ledger. Nine candidates, including three incumbents, are in the running for four of the seven school board seats up for election this fall. Lakeland Now. District 3 school board incumbent Sarah Fortney is running for a second term against Rick Nolte in the Aug. 23 primary. Both were educators for more than 30 years. Fortney, 61, said her priorities include boosting salaries for veteran teachers and other employees, retaining more teachers and improving mental health services for students. Nolte, 66, describes himself as a Christian conservative. He also supports higher salaries for longtime teachers, but suggested the district was wasting money that could be used for that purpose. He has complained about pornographic books in school libraries and has pledged to “run and govern on the DeSantis agenda.” Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A program started four years ago to help more students graduate and continue their education is being credited for the district’s jump to a 92 percent graduation rate, the highest among the 10 biggest school districts in the state. Elevating Excellence broadens the pool of high-achieving students from low-income families and helps them graduate and consider college. “The evidence says: if you give students hope for the future, then you can get them to work harder today,” said Mychal Wynn, who started the program called Foundation for Ensuring Access and Equity and partners with the district on Elevating Excellence. WTSP. District 6 school board candidate Stephanie Meyer, 40, talks about her qualifications, platforms and priorities. She’s running against Brian Martin and Kimberly Works. Florida Politics.

Lee: Amanecer Elementary School, which is under construction in Lehigh Acres and is scheduled to open in August 2023, has unveiled a logo, the falcon as its mascot, and blue and yellow as its colors. Its location is next to Lehigh Middle School, and it’s expected to house 972 students and help relieve overcrowding at other schools. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: District negotiators and the teachers union announced Friday that they have reached a tentative contract agreement giving teachers their largest raises in six years. Starting teacher pay would go from $46,800 to $48,725 a year, and all teachers would receive average raises of 4.2 percent and bonuses of $3,400 to $4,400. The deal still has to be ratified by teachers and approved by the school board. Florida Today. WKMG. Space Coast Daily. The federal universal free lunch program ends in the district in the coming school year. Students will have to apply to be eligible for free or reduced-cost meals. About 56 percent are expected to qualify. Florida Today.

Osceola: An administrative law judge has upheld the school board’s April decision to terminate the contract of American Classical Charter Academy. Board members said that more than half of the school’s teachers were uncertified and that there was no certified ESE teacher on campus in August and most of September in 2021. The school appealed to the Division of Administrative Hearings. In her recommendation, Judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock wrote, “The clear and convincing evidence demonstrates that the school board had sufficient basis to move for the termination of ACCA’s charter pursuant (to a section of state law).” News Service of Florida.

Volusia: A former candidate for the District 3 school board race filed a police complaint last week against another candidate, Kim Short, saying Short had threatened her job and her husband’s. Wendy Weisheimer dropped out of the race in June. She said Short made the threats at a campaign event Wednesday. She told a police dispatcher that she “cannot have this person consistently threatening me and harassing me.” Short said, “This is absolutely not true and to call in and make up a story like this is irresponsible.” Short, Justin Kennedy and Jessie Thompson face off in the Aug. 23 primary to replace Linda Cuthbert, who is not running for re-election. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: Umatilla High School’s resource room got a makover through a Renovate to Educate contest staged by Addition Financial. The theme of the renovated room is “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” It will be used by the school’s mental health liaison for restorative sessions to discuss social-emotional awareness and to provide assistance to students. It will also be where students can pick up personal care items, food and clothing. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: District 4 school board member Kelly Barrera is being challenged by retired naval officer and teacher Yvonne Marianne Lockbaum in the Aug. 23 primary. Lockbaum answered questions about the top issues for the district, her views of parental rights and other new state laws, staff shortages and more. WJXT.

Sarasota: Lauren Kurnov and Robyn Marinelli are competing to replace the departing Shirley Brown as District 4 school board representative in the Aug. 23 primary election. Kurnov, 43, has been an assistant vice president and director of student success at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and an educational consultant at New College of Florida. She said she wants to maintain the district’s A rating from the state, support teachers and improve reading skills for elementary students. Marinelli, 69, has been a teacher, school counselor and administrator for the district. She said she wants to prioritize students first, ensure parental rights and keep the board accountable. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In District 5, Nora Cietek and Tim Enos are running to replace the retiring Jane Goodwin. Cietek, 60, has worked as a special education teacher, assistant principal and principal. She wants to refresh the district’s approach to student mental health and strengthen the parent-teacher relationship. Enos, 56, is the former chief of the district’s police department. He wants to continue the district’s rating as the safest district in the state and close the achievement gap between white and minority students. He also opposes the board’s recent changes tightening its public comment period at meetings. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: Students at 44 district schools will receive free meals when schools reopen Aug. 11. Students at 11 other schools will have to apply to determine if they’re eligible for free or reduced-price meals. WEAR.

Clay: District 1 school board incumbent Janice Kerekes and challengers Charles Kirk and Erin Skipper answer questions about the top three issues facing the district, their views of parental rights and other new state laws, staff shortages and more. WJXT. The District 4 race on the Aug. 23 primary ballot has Michele Hanson challenging incumbent Tina Bullock. WJXT. Incumbent Ashley Gilhousen is going for her third term representing District 5. He opponent is Gerald Beasley. WJXT.

Alachua: A recent audit is raising conflict-of-interest questions about a school board candidate who cofounded and formerly ran a charter school before retiring this summer. District 5 candidate Kay Abbitt was being paid $82,000 a year as director of the Boulware Springs Charter School, and a company she owned was receiving $77,000 a year in rent payments from the school. The arrangement is not illegal but, said Brian Ray, director of the Poe Business Ethics Center at the University of Florida, “it’s a classic example of a conflict of interest.” Abbitt called it a “non-issue.” She faces Prescott Cowles in the Aug. 23 primary to replace the departing Rob Hyatt. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: A circuit court judge has tossed out a school board lawsuit against county commissioners over the placement of a half-cent sales tax renewal referendum on the ballot. Board members wanted the issue before voters in November, but commissioners decided instead to approve it for the 2024 ballot. In ruling against the school board, the judge said, in part, that the board violated the state’s Sunshine Law at the meeting in which the decision to sue was made. Hernando Sun.

Nassau: District 1 school board member Jamie Deonas and challengers Shannon Hogue and Rick Pavelock talk about why they’re running for office and their plans if elected. Florida Politics. Government worker David Dew, teacher Curtis Gaus and educator Albert Wagner, competing for the District 3 school board seat, answer questions about the top issues for the district, their views of parental rights and other new state laws, staff shortages and more. WJXT.

Putnam: District 4 school board incumbent Bud McInnes and challenger Linda Wagner offer their top three issues for the district and answer questions about parental rights and other new state laws, staff shortages and more. WJXT. Phil Leary and Kevin Whitlow are competing for the District 5 school board seat that has been held by Jane Crawford, who is not running. WJXT.

Flagler: District 1 incumbent school board member Jill Woolbright and opponent Sally Hunt answer questions about their qualifications, their priorities if elected, whether they support the renewal of the extra half-cent sales tax, and more. WJXT.

Columbia: Cherie Hill has been appointed to the District 3 school board seat by Gov. DeSantis. She replaces Steve Nelson, who resigned in January to take a job in Missouri. Hill is an adjunct professor at Saint Leo University and was a principal and assistant superintendent for the school district. Hill also is running unopposed for the seat in the Aug. 23 primary. Florida Politics. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. Office of the Governor. The District 5 school board seat is the only one being contested in this year’s election. Zaccheus Paulk, Hunter Peeler and Elizabeth Porter are running to replace Stephanie Johns. WJXT.

Gubernatorial appointment: Angela Falconetti, president of Polk State College, and Henry Mack, senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, have been appointed by Gov. DeSantis to the Education Commission of the States. It’s an interstate agency that tracks educational policy, translates research and provides advice. Office of the Governor. Adria Starkey, a bank executive in Collier County, has been appointed by DeSantis to the Florida Prepaid College Board. The appointment must be confirmed by the Florida Senate. Officer of the Governor.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s citizens should be deeply concerned that the party currently in political control is prohibiting teaching ideas that it finds threatening. Richard Manning, Tampa Bay Times. The important question for students of the 21st century is not “What do you know?” but “What can you do with what you know?” Bethune-Cookman University interim president Lawrence M. Drake II, Orlando Sentinel. Just as I had to re-learn what it means to succeed in education post-pandemic, so must our legislators revise policy to meet the needs of teachers and students now that the teaching and learning processes have been redefined. Jonathan Austin Peacock, Pensacola News Journal. It’s a weird tendency in education debates: we blame good, tested, and effective ideas for not solving the full extent of U.S. inequities. Conor Williams, The 74. Jeb Bush is calling for more accountability in Florida schools. How about we start with voucher schools, which have been rife with problems specifically because there’s hardly any accountability? Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Allowing military veterans without a college degree to teach is a bad idea. Sadly, it’s not the only one in Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Good teachers welcome and accept all their students for who they are, and Leon County schools’ new LGBTQ guide interferes with teachers’ ability to do that. It prevents teachers from being a source of support for LGBTQ kids and turns them into the gender police. Harry Thomas, Tallahassee Democrat. If there is a better, more equitable or impartial system of educating the masses than public schools, I’ve yet to see it. Treating children as chattel, institutionalizing bias and squelching access to facts in an attempt to constrict opinions, behaviors and values is not only disrespectful, it’s a surefire way to undermine our democracy. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff