Senate approves higher ed bill, budget talks continuing, superintendent searches, book reviews and more

Higher ed bill approved: Senators approved a higher education bill on Friday that places restrictions on spending by colleges and universities on diversity, equity and inclusion programs or ones that promote political or social activism unless they’re required by an accrediting body. S.B. 266 would also prohibit courses that are “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities,” require state higher education officials to appoint faculty committees to review core course offerings that could ultimately lead to the “removal, alignment, realignment, or addition” of courses, and give university presidents ultimate hiring authority at their schools. The House version of the bill is ready for a floor vote. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Phoenix.

Also in the Legislature: Lawmakers said this weekend they are tying up loose ends and expect to have a $115 billion state budget deal ready for consideration today or tomorrow. An agreement is needed by Tuesday if the session is to adjourn on time Friday. A 72-hour “cooling off” period is required between the time an agreement is reached and a vote on the budget. Among the latest items agreed to by budget negotiators are 5 percent raises for state workers, $5 million to help school districts push back middle and high school starting times, and $1.3 billion for school construction projects — $213.5 million for charter schools, $118 million for public schools, $261.4 million for state colleges and $666 million for universities that includes $75 million to help the University of Florida create a graduate campus in downtown Jacksonville. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The budget conference also has come to an agreement on spending $2.05 million for consulting, developing and delivering age-appropriate Holocaust education curriculum for students in grades 5-12. Florida Politics. Senators adopted a bill requiring school board candidates to live in the district they want to represent at the time of the election instead of when they qualify to run. It now goes back to the House for a final vote. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Brevard school board members are expected to select a superintendent Tuesday, Manatee board members trim the field of superintendent candidates down to three, 26 people have applied for the Broward superintendent’s job, Alachua’s school board will discuss the contract of its interim superintendent, a meeting scheduled Friday to discuss teacher misconduct in Duval schools was postponed at the last minute “due to pending legal matters,” two challenged books are in the review process in Sarasota County and another was removed at the request of the school board chair, and today is the deadline for the Escambia school board to decide whether to approve a contract turning a struggling middle school over to a charter school company. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Twenty-six people have applied for the school superintendent’s job. Among them is Valerie Wanza, chief of staff to interim superintendent Earlean Smiley. Smiley is not a candidate. Two other former Broward administrators are candidates: Shernette Grant, the chief program officer for Junior Achievement of South Florida and a former principal at Willian Dandy Middle in Fort Lauderdale; and Jason Nault, an associate superintendent of teaching and learning, equity and accountability in Waukegan, Ill., since 2018. Before that, he was a principal for two years at J.P. Taravella High in Coral Springs. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG.

Palm Beach: Thirteen private school leaders and a top school district official were among educators who traveled to New York City in mid-April to deliver a message to companies that there are good schools in Palm Beach County and space in them for employees’ children if they’re thinking of relocating or expanding. The trip was organized by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “This was really to reassure families from the New York area that Florida is not a hokey place,” said Alex Tolischus, director of enrollment management at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton. “There are great offerings for schools, and we put our kids into great colleges.” Palm Beach Post. A former Royal Palm Beach Community High School teacher accused of having a loaded handgun and a knife on campus in January has been placed in a pre-trial diversion program as part of a plea deal. Robert Krasnicki will be under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections for a year, must notify his employers about his entry into the program, undergo a mental-health evaluation with treatment, complete a firearms-safety course and perform 40 hours of community service, a judge decided Friday. Palm Beach Post. WPEC.

Duval: A scheduled second meeting Friday to discuss how the school district handled sexual misconduct complaints against several teachers at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts was canceled just before it was to begin “due to pending legal matters,” according to a district spokesperson. The delay was requested by lawyers from Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel, said school board chair Kelly Coker. At least four Douglas Anderson teachers have been removed from the classroom since January, and state officials criticized the district for its failure to report 50 complaints about teachers since 2020 in a timely manner, as required by state law. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. WTLV.

Pinellas: Fifty-five years after the all-black Pinellas High School in Clearwater was closed by the school district, its name has new life. Most recently, the building has been named the Clearwater Intermediate School. But it’s expanding to high school grades and needs a new name, and in March the school board unanimously agreed to honor the building’s history and call the school Pinellas High Innovation. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School board members are expected to choose a superintendent Tuesday from a field of three finalists. They are Mark Rendell, principal of Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High since 2019 and superintendent of the Indian River County School District from 2015 to 2019; Scott Schneider, the chief of schools for the Duval County School District since 2021; and Jason Wysong, deputy superintendent for the Seminole County School District since 2021. Rendell left in Indian River County after losing support from the board. Schneider and Wysong have not been superintendents before, and both are also among three finalists for the leadership role in Manatee County. Florida Today.

Volusia: The Plus One program that offered an extra hour of instruction every day for students in the district’s five schools with the highest poverty rates is ending after 20 years, school officials said last week. Julio Nazario-Valle, chief academic officer for the district, said several considerations went into the decision, including the elimination of funding for the program and the addition of 30 minutes of instruction every day in elementary schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Three educators have been chosen as finalists for the school superintendent’s job from a field of 12 semifinalists, the district announced Friday. They are Doug Wagner, the district’s deputy superintendent of operations since 2018; Scott Schneider, the chief of schools for the Duval County School District since 2021; and Jason Wysong, deputy superintendent for the Seminole County School District since 2021. Schneider and Wysong are also finalists for the same job in Brevard, where school board members are expected to name a winner Tuesday. Interviews of the Manatee finalists are May 10 and 11, and the school board is expected to hire the new superintendent May 16. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Your Observer.

Sarasota: Two more district library books have been challenged and are in the review process, and another was removed at the request of school board chair Bridget Ziegler after she received a complaint from a parent. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evision and Looking For Alaska by John Green are in the review process after being flagged by Cullen Morgan, president of the Young Republicans of Sarasota, for inappropriate content. Two copies of Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk, were removed from the North Port and Venice high school libraries when activist Melissa Bakondy said she didn’t have the “time or the stamina to do a book challenge” after receiving complaint from “a distinguished, elderly woman in our community,” and e-mailed school board members to ask them to act. Ziegler notified interim superintendent Allison Foster on March 25 that if the book wasn’t removed, she’d file a challenge herself. Fifteen minutes later Foster replied that the book would be removed. Charlotte Sun. A 29-year-old Sarasota Military Academy High School teacher was arrested Friday and accused of indecent, lewd, or lascivious touching of a 17-year-old student. Police said Michele Little “made out” with the student April 17 in her classroom after previously making sexually charged comments to him. School officials placed Little on administrative leave. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. WFTX.

Escambia: School board members reconvene at noon today to come to an agreement with Charter Schools USA to take over operation of the Warrington Middle School. No decision was reached during a three-hour meeting Friday, and today is the deadline. The board has balked at Charter’s demands about construction costs, the length of the lease and the phasing out of an attendance zone for the school. The state has expressed frustration with the district’s delay in reaching a contract with Charter. Pensacola News Journal. A picture book about the late actor Betty White’s life has been added to the restricted list for school libraries after it was challenged. Vicki Baggett, a teacher at Northview High School in Bratt, objected to a character’s reference to his two dads as a “violation of parental rights, introduction of alternate lifestyles and characters.” Baggett has objected to more than 150 books. Comic Sands.

Leon: Reactions to the state’s conclusion that there is “probable cause” to justify punishing school Superintendent Rocky Hanna for his “politically charged statements” have largely fallen along party lines. Republicans support Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.’s position that Hanna’s comments have earned him a punishment that could range from a reprimand or fine to suspension or the revocation of his teaching license. Democrats support Hanna’s contention that this is political retribution for his criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policies. Tallahassee Democrat. The principal who was forced out of her job at Tallahassee Classical School last month after failing to notify parents that their children would be seeing Michelangelo’s nude statue of David during a lesson about the Renaissance got to see the statue in person Friday in Florence, Italy. Hosting Hope Carrasquilla was an “immense pleasure,” said Cecilie Hollberg, the director of the Accademia Gallery. Associated Press.

Alachua: Interim superintendent Shane Andrews’ job is expected to be the focus of attention at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Andrew was named interim superintendent in March 2022 after the board fired Carlee Simon, and was given the jobs of forming a strategic plan, rezoning overcrowded schools, and addressing the district’s achievement gaps and growing discipline issues. Little progress has been made, though. “I recognize that Mr. Andrew has strengths, especially with interpersonal skills, but I am very concerned with his ability to manage large projects, make progress toward the board’s stated goals and meet all his contractual obligations,” said board member Sarah Rockwell, who asked for the discussion about his contract. Gainesville Sun. The former superintendent, Simon, said she has been named the interim dean for the University of Alaska Southeast’s School of Education in Juneau. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida President Ben Sasse has announced his first major personnel change since beginning the job in February. Friday was the last day of work for Charlie Lane, the school’s longtime senior vice president and chief operating officer. No explanation for the departure was announced. Gainesville Sun.

Around the nation: Many Republican-controlled states are trying to find ways to make it harder for college students to vote, since that’s a group that leans Democratic. “We need to be looking at, what are these college campus locations and polling, what is this young people effort that [Democrats] do?” said a leading GOP lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, at a recent conference of party leaders. “They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm, so they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed.” Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s education choice navigators and an online portal offering advice are ways to help ensure the promise of universal education savings accounts doesn’t leave anyone behind. Ben DeGrow, ExcelinEd. New College of Florida trustee Christopher Rufo and his allies haven’t built anything new at the school yet. They are succeeding, however, in tearing something down. Michelle Goldberg, New York Times. As student leaders, it is our responsibility to speak up and speak out against policies that threaten the safety and well-being of our peers. It is imperative that we stand together and demand that the administrations of our universities promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, rather than perpetuate division and exclusion. Jonathan Oliva-Infante, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff