Book challenge process targeted in lawsuit, superintendent contracts, construction projects, and more

Another lawsuit on book objections: Three Florida parents have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a 2023 state law that they say infringes on their First Amendment rights because it doesn’t include a process that allows them to object to book removals in schools. Two parents from St. Johns County and one from Orange County contend the process for removing books discriminates against those who disagree with “the state’s favored viewpoint” by only providing “a mechanism for a parent to object to the affirmative use of material; it does not provide a mechanism for a parent to object to the lack of use or discontinued use of material.” Named defendants are the members of the State Board of Education and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. USA Today Florida Network. Central Florida Public Media.

Around the state: Duval’s school board makes a counteroffer to its chosen superintendent that is significantly lower than what he’s asking for, Sarasota’s school board wants to start negotiations on a contract extension for its superintendent, $102 million in construction projects are underway in Hillsborough schools, the Orange school district reaches an agreement with law enforcement and the judicial system to find alternatives to arresting students for minor offenses, a new reading program will begin in the fall for Brevard K-3 students, and parents in Pasco County are mobilizing against a proposed charter school. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: Now that the school year is over, $102 million in construction projects are underway at district schools. About $85 million is going into HVAC repair and replacements, while about $17 million will be spent on maintenance projects that include new playgrounds, track repairs and other improvements. All the work is funded by the half-cent sales tax approved by voters. Spectrum News 9. WFTS. Bruhat Soma, the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 31, received a warm welcome home to Tampa this week, with a horse-drawn carriage ride to a neighborhood party that included a special appearance by Rays mascot Raymond and a classic Indian felicitation ceremony. Soma, 12, is a rising 8th-grader at Turner/Bartels K-8 school in New Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS.

Orange: District officials have signed an agreement with law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to find alternatives to arresting students for minor offenses that don’t threaten anyone’s safety. Under the terms of the agreement, all schools will be required to clearly detail the safety policies for referring students for mental health services or conducting behavioral assessments. Central Florida Public Media. International teachers are increasingly being hired to combat the teaching shortage in schools. District officials have hired 212 educators from such countries as Jamaica, the Philippines, Ghana, South Africa, Trinidad, Guyana and China through Educational Partners International. Spectrum News 13.

Duval: District officials are offering Christopher Bernier significantly less money than he asked for in contract negotiations to become the next school superintendent. Bernier wants a salary of $350,000 a year, up to $50,000 a year for a paid mentor, $15,000 for moving expenses, and about $7,300 a month toward his retirement. District officials’ counteroffer, based on research of comparable jobs and released Thursday, would pay him $280,000 a year in salary, $15,000 for moving expenses, $15,000 a year for his retirement account, and nothing for a mentor or monthly car expenses, saying he could use a district car. Bernier would be eligible for performance bonuses. He has not responded publicly to the counteroffer. WJXT.

Polk: Five more students from Bartow High School’s International Baccalaureate program have been named National Merit Scholarship winners. Johnathan Marocco, Abraham Medina, Mohan Nakka, Melissa Thomas and Kim-Linh Vo join another Bartow IB graduate Nicholas Kieffer, whose selection was announced in May. Polk County School District.

Lee: Cape Coral City Council members have approved the purchase of speed detection cameras to place in 17 school zones. Drivers caught going more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit will be mailed a $100 ticket. WBBH.

Pasco: Opposition among parents is growing against a proposed 1,000-student charter high school in the Odessa area. Some parents who live in the Starkey Ranch subdivision want a large public school that accepts all students instead of granting admission by lottery only, as the charter school proposes. Last year the district sold the property to the Patel Foundation for Global Understanding, which also operates a high school in Hillsborough County, to build a school in the rapidly growing area to reduce overcrowding at other high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School officials are preparing to launch a new reading program, the “Mighty Moves Initiative,” in the fall for students in grades K-3. The plan outlines how the district will introduce and use the science of reading instructional process now required by state law. It also describes the training for administrators, literacy coaches and teachers, and the frequency of data collection that will measure the literacy improvement. “This is actually a targeted, research-based, cyclical approach,” said Superintendent Mark Rendell, who called the plan “fantastic.” In the 2022-2023 state testing, 56 percent of the district’s 3rd-graders scored at or above grade level for reading. The state average was 50 percent. Florida Today. Keith Schachter, a former teacher who now owns an advertising company that does work for the district, has joined the crowded field of candidates for the District 4 school board seat. Matt Susin is the incumbent, and his other challengers are Avanese Taylor, Matt Madl and Crystal Kazy. Florida Today.

Volusia: Senior pranks at district high schools are sometimes funny and sometimes cross the line, but most are almost always memorable. Here are some of the notable ones that have been pulled in recent years. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: School board members unanimously agreed at this week’s meeting to start contract extension negotiations with Superintendent Terry Connor. He’s being paid $255,000 a year plus benefits through June 2026, and board members expressed a strong preference to extend that contract. Tom Edwards said Connor, who came to the district last summer from Hillsborough County, “cannot have done a better job in light of the fact of what he’s had to deal with since he’s been here.” Colleague Bridget Ziegler, the only board member who didn’t vote for Connor when he was hired, concurred. “I’m very encouraged. I feel like our district has really elevated to a level. It’s grown up and I think it comes down to some great leadership,” she said.  Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua: County residents are being asked to make suggestions for a new name for the school district headquarters. A public meeting was held Thursday night to discuss ideas and another is scheduled June 27. WCJB.

Putnam: Incumbent school Superintendent Rick Surrency now has two challengers and will have to win two elections to keep his job. He’ll face county commissioner Paul Adamczyk in the Aug. 20 Republican primary. The winner moves on to the Nov. 5 election to face write-in candidate Pat Wilson. Palatka Daily News. Leon Edenfield, who lost a 2018 primary for a county commission seat, has filed as a candidate for the District 2 seat on the school board. He is challenging incumbent David Buckles, who is running for a third term. If no other candidate qualifies, the winner will be decided in the Aug. 20 primary. Palatka Daily News.

Colleges and universities: University of South Florida trustees envision building a “vibrant” dining, retail, housing and green space destination spot on the 120 acres that had been the home of the Claw golf course. Prospective developers will be sought until July. Tampa Bay Times. Florida International University offers a program giving STEM majors the opportunity to take an introductory education course to see if they have an interest in teaching in local middle and high schools. WLRN. Three online majors are being added by the University of Florida this fall: agricultural education and communication, early childhood education, and entomology and nematology. Mainstreet Daily News. Gainesville Sun.

Around the nation: Students who most need the financial aid available through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid have been most affected by the technical problems that beset the rollout of a new form, according to an analysis. USA Today. Pre-K enrollment in the United States hit a record high during the 2022-2023 school year after declining during the pandemic, a study by the National Institute for Early Education Research reports. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Florida ranks 44th in the nation in the rate of employment in knowledge- and technology-intensive industries. Is that why our state’s leaders don’t care about student achievement in math and science? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff

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