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Rep. Fine details FAU presidency search, substitute teachers, school police forces, top administrators, absenteeism, and more

Around the state: State Rep. Randy Fine said he applied for the job of president at Florida Atlantic University only after he was assured by someone in the Gov. Ron DeSantis administration that “the path has been cleared” and he would “waltz right in,” Lee County School Board members will consider a proposal to hire a company to provide substitute teachers, Clay’s school board is considering whether to begin negotiations with the sheriff’s department to take over the school district’s police force for the next three years, absenteeism has become a problem for Leon County schools since the pandemic, and Polk and Clay schools name their principal and assistant principal of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The school district has opened a welcome center for immigrants at Pines Lakes Elementary School in Pembroke Pines. It’s intended as a place where newcomers can get information and help so they can adjust to a new country and customs, a new language and a new education system. About 32,000 district students are in the English to speakers of other languages program. WTVJ.  Hundreds of home-schooled students are learning science through the co-op Surf Skate Science, which teaches the subject through surfing and skateboarding. About 250 kids from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are hitting the water every week this fall, and earning science and physical education credits for their college applications. WLRN.

Duval: An Englewood High School security guard who also coached basketball has been arrested and accused of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Authorities said Paul L. McPherson, 45, also faces charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana. He’s been reassigned to duties that don’t include contact with students during the investigation. WJAX. WJXT.

Polk: Wanda Aponte of Lake Marion Creek Middle School in Poinciana has been named the school district’s principal of the year, and Gian Monacelli of Mulberry High has been chosen as the assistant principal of the year. Both are now eligible for statewide honors. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A program to teach students about the dangers of opioids is being offered to county 7th-graders in a collaborative project by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, the school district and the sheriff’s office. The course began in 2020 at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg and has expanded to 22 middle schools. WFTS.

Lee: A proposal to hire Kelly Services to provide substitute teachers will be presented to the school board next week. The district has 202 teaching jobs open, and is able to fill an absent teacher’s spot only 57 percent of the time, said district officials. The estimated cost is more than $8 million. WINK.

Brevard: Two members of the school district’s book review committee have resigned since the group’s work was put on hold in June while the review policy is being written to accommodate a new state law. The biggest change is that the review committee, which had the responsibility of deciding whether to remove a book, will now make recommendations to Superintendent Mark Rendell, who will present them to the school board for a final decision. That policy is expected to be adopted by the board Nov. 14, and the review committee hopes to replace the two members and resume its work shortly after. Florida Today.

Clay: School board members are scheduled to vote next week whether to begin negotiations with the sheriff’s department to take over the school district’s police force for the next three years. The district’s force was separated from the sheriff’s department in 2019 because of costs, but now the board is considering offloading it and $4.8 million budget. Sheriff Michelle Cook said the upfront cost of absorbing the district’s officers would be $1.7 million. “We need to be looking at cutting programs anyway,” said school board member Michele Hanson. “There (are) a lot of hard decisions to be made in the next three years. For me, making a decision on the security of our kids is not as tough as making a decision about something else. Safety decisions are easier. They’re easy for the public to understand.” Clay Today. Wilnitra Dixon of Oakleaf Junior High High has been chosen as the school district’s principal of the year, and Hope Davis of Lakeside Junior High was named the top assistant principal. Both are now eligible for statewide honors. Clay Today.

Leon: More than 22 percent of district students missed more than 21 days of schools in 2022, which was higher than the average state district, according to absenteeism data from the Florida Department of Education. That’s about 7,400 students out of the district’s enrollment of about 33,000, school board members were told this week, and a significant increase over pre-pandemic rates. Tallahassee Reports.

Columbia: School board members voted this week to pursue a lawsuit against a company that was paid $192,000 to renovate the track at Columbia High School but didn’t complete the job. Another company has since been hired to complete the work at a cost of $314,000. “(Gary Wilson, owner of Pro Sports Consulting Group LLC) took money out of the taxpayers, out of Columbia County,” said Superintendent Alex Carswell. “I just think that pursuits down the road needs to be both money and criminal.” WCJB.

Walton: Students at Seacoast Collegiate High School will get new chromebooks thanks to a $46,000 grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation. Students can use the laptops during their time at Seacoast and keep them after they graduate. The foundation has also helped the school by sponsoring its annual race and putting money towards its new $30 million campus buildings. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said Thursday that he applied for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University only after being told by an unnamed person in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office that “the path has been cleared” and he would “waltz right in.” But he didn’t make the list of finalists before the search was suspended. The governor’s office disputed Fine’s story, saying he was “begging” for the job. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida. Applications are being accepted for spots in the first on-campus student housing that opens next fall at the University of South Florida’s Sarasota-Manatee campus. About 200 will live in the $42 million six-story building, which is across the street from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport and just north of New College of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science has received a $3.2 million grant over the next five years to develop a sargassum forecasting system. Half the money goes to USF, and the rest will go to research partners at Florida Atlantic University, the Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System, NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources. WTSP.

Around the nation: A bill has been reintroduced in the U.S. Congress that would bring school choice to students in every U.S. state. The Educational Choice for Children Act would create a non-refundable 100 percent federal tax credit for individual and corporate donations of up to $10 billion annually. Those donations would go to nonprofit organizations in each state to award as school choice scholarships for students in lower and middle-income families. reimaginED. Creation of a religious charter school in Oklahoma has created a split between school choice advocates, and between state Republicans. Two lawsuits have filed to block the establishment of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, and they have the support of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which wants charters to remain public schools. Those who support the nation’s first religious charter school argue that receiving public funds does not make charters state actors reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: If your kids rely on a yellow school bus to get to and from class, you may want to pay attention: Florida is dead last in what it pays its public school bus drivers, according to the online job-search service Zippia. Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff