Palm Beach ponies up $54.9M to charter schools, Hillsborough district’s share of tax cut, and more

Around the state: Palm Beach County’s school board unanimously approved the payment of $54.9 million to charter schools to settle a lawsuit over the district failing to share proceeds from a tax hike with them, Hillsborough county commissioners agree to ask voters to renew a community investment tax but are cutting the school district’s share of the proceeds from 25 percent to 5 percent, only four people have applied for the Duval superintendent’s job but the school board still intends to make a hire in May, Pasco’s school district will try again to approve a policy on the length of students’ shirts, and a bus driver for a private school in St. Lucie County has been fired for stopping the bus on train tracks for about 20 seconds as a freight train was approaching. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Construction has begun on upgrades and additions to the Ken Mattingly Planetarium at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School. Named after a former astronaut who grew up in Hialeah, it includes a new metal sphere dome, advanced digital projection and sound systems, seating for 52 and a gallery. Students in the newly created space and technology research magnet program will start using the building in the fall of 2025. WSVN. Several students from Charles R. Drew K-8 Center in Miami were temporarily stranded at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair after a field trip Wednesday when the bus they were assigned to return to school on left without them. Parents took them back to school, but were critical of the district. A spokesperson said the district “is deeply concerned to learn that several students from Charles R. Drew K-8 Center returned to their school from a field trip with a parent instead of their assigned bus. We are looking into the matter and will take appropriate action.” WFOR. WTVJ.

Broward: Cypress Bay High School and adjacent Falcon Cove Middle in Weston are closed today after a water main break cut off the school’s water supply, school officials said late Wednesday. Repairs are expected to be completed in time for the schools to reopen Friday. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: County commissioners voted Wednesday to place a renewal of the Community Investment Tax referendum on the November ballot. The tax is used for building roads, public safety facilities, parks, libraries, fire stations and other projects in the county, as well as for new schools, renovations and buses for the school district. The district has received about $655 million since the tax began in 1996, but if the CIT is approved this year the schools’ share of the take will drop from 25 percent to 5 percent. School board members decided Tuesday to ask voters to approve an increase in property taxes to help increase compensation for employees. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFTS.

Palm Beach: School board members unanimously agreed Wednesday to pay charter schools $54.9 million to settle a lawsuit that contended they deserved a fair share of the money generated from a special tax for the district that voters approved in 2018. Superintendent Michael Burke said the district had put the money aside, anticipating this legal outcome, “so there’s no devastating impact.” Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: Only four candidates have applied for the school superintendent’s job so far, but school board members said they still intend to choose a new superintendent on May 23. Applications are being accepted through April 15. Semifinalists will be named April 23, and finalists May 7. Interviews are scheduled May 13 and 14, with the decision announced May 23. A 2023 search was suspended after it didn’t produce enough qualified candidates. Dana Kriznar has been the interim superintendent since last June, after Diana Greene retired. WJXT. Kriznar and school board members said at this week’s school board meeting that a proposal to close at least 10 elementary schools to cut the district’s $1.4 billion budget gap is simply a starting point in a conversation. WTLV. WJXT.

Pasco: The long-running debate over the length of students’ shirts has resurfaced. Last spring, the school board adopted a policy that shirts had to “extend to the waist.” It was dropped a month into the school year when the board decided it was creating unnecessary controversy. But the district’s code of conduct committee decided to revisit the issue, and is now proposing that the bottom of shirts “must extend to the waistband of pants/shorts/shirts.” Superintendent Kurt Browning said he will take the committee’s recommendation to the school board. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: District officials are considering buying the same mobile weapons detection system recently installed in Escambia, Orange and other counties around the state. The OPENGATE machine weighs just 25 pounds and can be moved around as needed. Each costs about $17,000. WKMG. WFTV.

Volusia: The teacher who was accused of calling her special needs students by a derogatory name was transferred from Cypress Creek Elementary School to the Holly Hill School, district officials confirmed this week. Samantha Fuster is providing math intervention and support for students in several grades at the K-8 school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: Twenty-one revised district policies, including the use of artificial intelligence in classrooms, updated school safety regulations and revised rules for disciplining students with special needs were approved Tuesday by the school board. The changes were made to comply with state regulations. Board members also seemed ready to move forward with a proposal to limit public comment time at meetings to 90 minutes, with no speaker getting more than three minutes. If it is adopted, it would be several months it would go into effect. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. School board member Tom Edwards is proposing that the district conduct formal exit interviews with departing teachers to help understand their decisions. WFTS. Edwards also said this week that he has qualified through petitions to run for re-election to his District 3 school board seat. He has drawn two challengers so far: Gregory Wood and Thomas Andrew Babicz. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie: A bus driver for a private school in Fort Pierce has been fired after he stopped on train tracks for about 20 seconds Monday as a freight train was approaching before moving ahead when students began yelling at him. Synergy Magnet K-12 school officials said the driver was fired after an investigation. WPTV.

Escambia: A Booker T. Washington High School English teacher was disciplined and moved to another class after writing several spellings of the “N-word” on a classroom whiteboard during a discussion on how that word has been used over the years. District officials did not disclose the punishment, and the teacher remains at the school. WEAR.

Okaloosa: The new Health Academy of Northwest Florida was opened this week on the HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital campus in Fort Walton Beach. District students in the high school nursing program will take classes and observe in the building, which is a collaboration between the district and HCA. WJHG.

Alachua: School board members unanimously agreed with a book review committee’s recommendation to remove two books from the district’s school libraries that were challenged because of their sexual content. Gone are The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur and Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik. Mainstreet Daily News.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University vice president for student affairs William E. Hudson Jr. has been named one three finalists for the presidency of Tennessee State University in Nashville. Trustees are expected to make a decision later this month. Tallahassee Democrat.

‘Seal of Fine Arts’ signed: Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill creating a “Seal of Fine Arts” program in the Florida Department of Education. Students would have the option of three pathways to earn them the state seal for their work in creative classes such as dance or music. Florida Politics.

Amendments on the ballot: A return to partisan school board races is one of six constitutional amendments on the ballot in November. The two most discussed will be proposals to legalize recreational marijuana and a ban against laws restricting abortion before viability or to protect the mother’s health as decided by her health-care provider. Proposals need the backing of 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: We must not be so concerned with winning on school choice and other issues that we fail to see the nuance in policy positions and debates, the common ground in relationships, and the good intentions in others. Alison Heape Johnson, Real Clear Education. At my university (and probably at many others) we are careening toward a culture in which class is the place to go only if you have absolutely nothing else to do. Our leaders must realize that the classroom is the core of the university learning experience and halt that trend now. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff