Education issues and school board seats on the ballot, storm closing schools, and more

It’s election day: Today is election day, with polls open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. The ballot includes a choice for governor between Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, candidates with very different positions on most education issues, school board races that have become increasingly partisan, more requests from school districts for voters to approve tax increases so they can keep up with rising expenses, and a constitutional amendment that would give teachers and other public workers an extra property tax exemption. Nearly 4.8 million Floridians have already cast ballots. Meanwhile, a state of emergency was declared Monday by DeSantis for 34 Florida counties threatened by Subtropical Storm Nicole, which is approaching the east coast. The storm is likely to become a hurricane later in the week and cross over the state, but is not expected to have a significant impact on voting since winds and rain are forecast to begin moving ashore after the polls close tonight.

School closings: Public schools in St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee counties will be closed Wednesday and Thursday due to the anticipated impacts of the storm. The districts were already scheduled to be off Friday for Veterans Day. Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa and Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach also will close Wednesday through Friday. WPTV. WPEC. WPBF. TCPalm. Florida Department of Education.

Around the state: Pasco County School Board members will discuss a proposal setting behavior guidelines for parents while on school campuses, Manatee County officials say they won’t pay a $120,000 bill from the school district for dumping storm debris on school property without permission, voters in Lee County will decide whether to switch from an appointed school superintendent to an elected one, one of the Broward school board members suspended by Gov. DeSantis is on the ballot today, incoming University of Florida president Ben Sasse will be paid $1 million a year with built-in raises and bonuses under his proposed contract, and the path taken by former Florida State University president John Thrasher could be a model for Sasse. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Four school board races are on today’s ballot, and one of them includes a former school board member who was removed by Gov. DeSantis shortly after the release of the statewide grand jury report that recommended she and three others be suspended for their “acts of incompetence,  neglect of duty and misuse of authority.” It’s unclear whether Donna Korn would be suspended for a second time if she defeats Allen Zeman for the at-large school board seat. Florida Politics.

Duval: District officials said Monday that they will begin to send text messages and e-mails to parents when their children’s buses are going to be more than 30 minutes later for pickup or dropoff. The notification policy begins Nov. 14. WJAX.

Lee: Voters will decide today whether to make the superintendent’s position an elected one instead of an appointed one. School board members have been appointing superintendents since 1974, but the Legislature approved a bill last spring to give voters a choice. If voters approve the switch, the position will be on the ballot in November 2024. Only 26 of the state’s 67 county school districts elect superintendents. WINK. WGCU. Florida Politics.

Pasco: School board members will discuss a proposed policy that would set behavior guidelines for parents while on district properties, as well as rules for employees and students, at a public hearing today. Unacceptable or disruptive behavior defined in the policy includes loud or offensive language, damaging or destroying property and making abusive, threatening or “overly voluminous” calls, emails and other communications. Employees would have the authority to deal with the behaviors, beginning with warnings but accelerating as necessary. “I was hearing from principals about uncivilized behavior, inappropriate behavior, from parents,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “The yelling, the screaming, the threatening — the parents that tend to want to have a hostile interaction with their child’s school. There’s got to be a level of civility.” Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: School and law enforcement officials are investigating a report that a Celebration High School student was sexually assaulted by three older boys in a school locker room last month. A report from deputies found probable cause of lewd and lascivious conduct and battery, and prosecutors are investigating. WFTV.

Manatee: The school district has sent a bill of $120,000 to the county for using school property to dump debris from Hurricane Ian without permission. County officials said they won’t pay it because they have had verbal agreements with the district to use the site, the future home for a high school in Lakewood Ranch, as a temporary dumping ground. They said the property won’t be used by the school district for the next several years, and that the county will stop placing debris there by Nov. 22. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sarasota: An assistant football coach at Venice High School has been placed on leave while the district investigates allegations that he touched female students inappropriately. Brian Ryals had been investigated by Venice police, who determined that the “available circumstantial evidence does not rise to the level of probable cause for an arrest.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WWSB.

Bay: Progress remains elusive in contract negotiations between the school district and the teachers union. Teachers are asking for a total raise pool of $7 million, while the district has offered $2.6 million. “The big sticking point right now is how much money the lower-end teachers should receive out of the pot of money versus those at the higher end,” said district spokeswoman Sharon Michalik said. The next negotiating session is scheduled Nov. 15. WJHG. WMBB.

Levy: A Bronson Middle/High School school resource officer arrested an 11-year-old student who reportedly brought a pellet gun to school Monday. A sheriff’s spokesperson said the student did not make any threats against other students. WGFL. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: Incoming University of Florida president Ben Sasse would be paid $1 million a year, receive automatic 4 percent a year raises and 15 percent bonuses, and receive another million if he stays as UF president for five years, according to his proposed contract. He’s expected to be approved as president Thursday by the Board of Governors, and begin his job early next year. WCJB. Sasse will have to overcome the deep suspicions of many students and faculty at UF when he assumes office. One model he might want to consider emulating is the one of former Florida State University president John Thrasher, another Republican politician who began his tenure under the same concerns as Sasse but retired in 2020 as a respected and well-liked leader. Tampa Bay Times. Carol and Frank Morsani have given the University of Tampa one of the largest gifts in school history, school officials said Monday. They didn’t disclose the amount. The gift will be used for a new honors college building and scholarship fund. Tampa Bay Times. William Gilbert Katzenmeyer, the former dean of the University of South Florida College of Education from 1977 until 1994, died Oct. 16 at the age of 93. University of South Florida.

Around the nation: Florida is one of five states that meet four of the five recommended practices by the nonprofit Libertarian think tank Reason Foundation for open school enrollment, according to a report from the organization. The five practices are mandatory cross-district and in-district open enrollment, transparent reporting by the state education agency, transparent school capacity reporting, and free access to all public schools. The only practice Florida doesn’t follow is transparent reporting by the state agency. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: Florida is one of a cluster of states that increased spending on education by a relatively small amount between 2003 and 2020 but saw relatively large reading gains for low-income students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Early literacy, funding reform and universal school choice are among the 10 policy changes already in the works that are offering foundational and innovative solutions that can help modernize education and turn around low student performance confirmed by NAEP. Tom Greene, ExcelinED. Despite the academic difficulties caused by the pandemic, the present generation of K-12 and college students are the most resilient students I can remember seeing in my 36 years as a physics professor at Florida State University, and could become outstanding leaders. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff