Legal fees end for suspended board members, $55,177 starting teacher pay in Manatee and more

Around the state: Broward school board members unanimously agree to stop paying the legal bills for former board members who were suspended by the governor after a statewide grand jury accused them of “acts of incompetence and neglect of duty,” Duval school board members dispute the state’s charge that the district continues to underreport crimes on campuses, several districts approve budgets for the 2022-2023 school year, Manatee’s school board approves a contract to improve starting teacher pay to $55,177, a baggie with the synthetic opioid fentanyl was recently found by a student outside a bathroom at a Volusia County high school, and the state university system’s four-year graduation rate is on track to climb to 65 percent by 2025. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members agreed unanimously Tuesday to stop paying the legal bills of board members who were suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Two of those members, Ann Murray and Donna Korn, have spent $120,000 in the past 16 months to delay the release of the statewide grand jury report on the Parkland school shooting and school safety. The board also accepted the resignations of chief of staff Jeff Moquin and equity and school climate director David Watkins, and the retirement of Ron Morgan, assistant chief building official. All were criticized in the grand jury report, and ordered by Superintendent Vickie Cartwright to resign or face a state investigation over their actions. Cartwright told that board Tuesday that she has taken “swift action” to deal with the problems noted by the grand jury. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida. Associated Press. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Under cross-examination by a prosecutor Tuesday, neurologist Paul Connor conceded that many of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s neurological test scores were in the normal range, not only below-average. The defense is trying to convince the jury that fetal alcohol syndrome should be considered in deciding whether Cruz is sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Sun-Sentinel. WLRN. Summarizing what happened Tuesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. District officials have issued a warning to students’ parents and school faculty about “rainbow fentanyl” that is showing up around the country. The deadly pills are brightly colored and look like candy. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: The business manager at a private school in Tampa has been indicted on charges of stealing $1.1 million in tuition money. According to a U.S. Department of Justice news release, James John Melis, 53, of Largo, “abused his position as business manager” by linking his personal bank account with the school’s PayPal account and then transferring tuition payments  from the school account to his own. He’s been charged with wire fraud, bank fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Palm Beach: A budget of almost $4.97 billion was approved recently by the school board. That’s about $800 million higher than last year’s budget, which Superintendent Michael Burke attribuites to higher property values that will more than offset a decline in the millage rate, increased state funding, federal coronavirus relief aid and more. “With inflation and rising costs, having some additional dollars put into education this year will go a long way to meet the needs of our students,” he said. . Palm Beach Post.

Duval: School board members said Tuesday that the district has tightened up its reporting of school crimes since a statewide grand jury criticized it for underreporting crimes committed on campuses. The state’s Office of Safe Schools disputed that claim last week in a letter to the district, and contends the district is still not reporting all crimes. Board members disagree, and said they continue to look for ways to make further improvements. “I do think we’re doing a lot more than what the letter stated, and I think that is one thing I want the public to know is the letter stated these things about some pieces that were ongoing in our system,” said board member Darryl Willie. “At the end of the day, the numbers show that we’re actually getting ourselves in line with all the other major seven school districts around the state.” WTLV. WJXT. WJAX.

Pinellas: School board members approved a $1.8 billion budget on Tuesday, but the district still hasn’t come to a contract agreement with teachers. Union officials are asking for raises averaging 11 percent, while the district said it can only afford 4 percent. Negotiations resume today. WTSP. WFTS. Gulfport police said they’re investigating an allegation made by a 15-year-old female student at Boca Ciega High School that she was assaulted by a police officer in school last week. The girl said she was being bullied by six other students when the officer intervened, pushed her against a wall and handcuffed her. WFLA. WFTS.

Lee: A student at Lexington Middle School has been arrested and accused of making a bomb threat against the school. It’s the second time this year students at the school have been arrested and accused of making threats. WBBH.

Pasco: School board members approved a $1.8 billion budget this week that includes raises of at least 5 percent for all employees. It also sets aside $534.6 million for capital projects such as building new schools and upgrading older ones, and provides a lower tax rate that will be more than offset by higher property valuations, new building and increased funding from the state. In other news, the board approved naming a new east county middle-high school the Angeline Academy of Innovation as a nod to the community where it’s located, and the building of a charter school in the same area that is expected to partner with the new academy. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A nearly $1.5 billion budget was recently approved by school board members, which represents an increase of about 16.8 percent and $215.7 million. More than $508 million is being used for student instruction, over $270 million goes to construction and facilities acquisition and construction, about $46.5 million for personnel dealing directly with pupils, and about $38 million is going to service debt. The millage rate will decline unless voters approve a 1-mill increase on Nov. 8 to improve teacher pay and academic programs. Florida Today.

Osceola: A booster failure during the launch of a space flight Monday in Texas grounded an experiment created by six students from the NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee. Thirty-six research projects, including two from Florida, were aboard the unmanned capsule, which was recovered. The NeoCity students had a three-minute test to examine the effects of microgravity on ultrasonic waves. It’s expected to be placed on a future Blue Origin flight. WKMG.

Seminole: A school resource officer at Spring Lake Elementary School in Altamonte Springs has been suspended without pay after his home was searched by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as part of a investigation into child pornography. No charges have yet been filed against Steven Self. WOFL. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: A baggie with the synthetic opioid fentanyl was recently found by a student outside a bathroom at Atlantic High School in Port Orange. “What in the world are high school kids doing with fentanyl?” Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood asked. “Do they not realize that in Volusia County, we have over 300 overdose deaths a year for the past several years and ten times that amount of overdosing? And fentanyl is the key distributor in all that.” WKMG. WOFL. WESH. A JROTC student at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange will be allowed to wear the uniform without cutting his locs hairstyle. Logan Rentz, 16, was told last year that his hair violated national JROTC command regulations, and he could only participate in street clothes. But the organization recently changed its policy, and Rentz expects to be in uniform next week. WESH.

Manatee: Starting teacher pay is being boosted from $52,910 to $55,177 after school board members approved the contract between teachers and the school district at Tuesday’s board meeting. Base starting pay for teachers will be $48,586, and a supplement of $6,591 is coming from the extra property tax voters approved in 2021. Board members also approved a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all employees, up from $13.34. Both are retroactive to July 1. “This certainly makes us more than competitive in attracting and retaining quality professional educators in the classrooms,” said board member James Golden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Your Observer. WUSF. WTSP. WFTS. WWSB.

Collier: A new high school in north Naples will be named after a former county sheriff. Aubrey Rogers High School, which opens next fall, honors the late sheriff who helped start the Collier County Junior Deputy League in the 1960s and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Youth Relations program in 1977. WINK. WFTX.

Lake: A former miniature golf course in Mount Dora is being used to expand a K-12 STEM arts integration school. Create Conservatory has signed a three-year lease-to-own contract at the former Adventure Cove Miniature Golf and is projected to move into the first of three phases by late November. Phase 1 involves adding two walls, new windows, doors, flooring and extra bathroom stalls inside the existing building, which will have three K-6 classrooms. When the project is completed, the 2.5-acre property will have 13 K-12 classrooms. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: School board members indicated on Tuesday that they plan to drop the school millage rate from 5.81 to 5.48 in this school year’s $423 million budget. Each mill represents $1 in property taxes for every $1,000 in taxable property value. For most homeowners, the dip in the rate won’t mean lower property taxes, because property valuations have gone up. WTLV.

Escambia: Laura Carroll, who pleaded no contest to trying to rig the homecoming queen election at Tate High School in Pensacola in favor of her daughter nearly two years ago, has been sentenced to 18 months of probation. Carroll pleaded no contest to a charge of using a two-way device to facilitate a felony. Three other charges were dropped. WEAR.

Leon: A 17-year-old Leon High School student was arrested Tuesday after a loaded gun was found in his backpack. Deputies said the student informed school administrators that he had the gun while a different incident was being investigated. It’s the third arrest of a district student in the past month for having a weapon on campus. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: Six students were arrested after a fight broke out during lunch at Eastside High School. Administrators and a school resource were unable to break up the fight, so the SRO used pepper spray that struck other students who weren’t involved, and teachers. About 15 people were sent to the school nurse for treatment, and one was taken to a hospital as a precaution. WGFL.

Santa Rosa: A change in the school calendar now has students attending classes all day Dec. 14 and 15 instead of half-days, as has been the practice. Dec. 16, the last day before the winter break, will remain a half-day. “Normally the three days leading into the end of a semester, secondary students have exams, and over the last few years those semester exam days have been half-days,” said school spokeswoman Tonya Leeks-Shepherd. “But whenever school has to be canceled due to a storm day or anything like that, those are instructional minutes that ultimately may have to be made up, which causes you to have to go to school a little bit longer or take away some of your half days.” Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: District substitute teachers who are working toward certification are getting a pay raise from $22.75 an hour to $25 after the school board approved the proposal on Tuesday. The change is effective immediately. The board also agreed to reimburse employees for fingerprinting fees. WJHG. WMBB. A special-needs teacher at Hutchinson Beach Elementary School has been put on administrative leave while the Department of Children and Families investigates an allegation of child abuse. The mother of a 10-year-old said the teacher shoved the boy into a whiteboard. WMBB.

Hernando: Alex Record, an English teacher at Powell Middle School, had a children’s book published in August that sets the record straight about animal misconceptions. He had the idea to write it about a year ago when correcting students’ mistaken beliefs about animals. He thought there should be a book addressing it, and was surprised he couldn’t find any. So he wrote Bats Aren’t Birds: An ABC Book of Animal Misconceptions. Hernando County School District.

Citrus: School board members have approved pay raises for employees and substitute teachers. Returning teachers will make a minimum of $47,900 a year if the agreement is approved, while administrators would get raises of 3.5 percent and all non-union support personnel would be paid at least $15 an hour. Short-term substitute teachers would make between $120 and $140 a day, and long-term subs would be paid between $165 and $180 a day. The increases are retroactive to July 1. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: The state university system’s four-year graduation rate is on track to climb to 65 percent by 2025, according to state data shown to the Board of Governors on Tuesday. That would be up from 59 percent in 2011. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: U.S. Justice Department officials are appealing a judge’s temporary injunction against the Biden administration’s Title IX guidelines prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In July, a Tennessee judge blocked the guidance, ruling that it “directly interferes and threatens” the ability of states challenging it to enforce state laws prohibiting transgender athletes from playing on sports teams and using bathrooms that conform to their gender identity. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Private schools have rebounded from the pandemic, but unless governments offer larger subsidies to every family that wishes to attend private school, major expansion of the private sector is unlikely. Paul E. Peterson, The Hill. A campaign ad for Gov. DeSantis shows a student looking into the camera and thanking the governor because he “let me go to school.” What the ad doesn’t say is that DeSantis closed schools in the spring of 2020 for the rest of the academic year because of the pandemic. Danielle Brown, Florida Phoenix. Given the current divisive state of Florida politics, it is no surprise that Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics never had a chance of getting a fair hearing before school administrators deciding what kind of culture students can — and can’t — explore. A win for censors, and a loss for students. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff