Rising renovation costs, Polk charter school chief fired, new Florida Southern leader, and more

Around the state: The costs of renovating a Lee County high school have skyrocketed from $45 million to $108 million, a Polk County charter school superintendent has been fired over allegations of creating a hostile workplace and racial discrimination, Duval school board members say they’re standing behind their hiring of a new superintendent despite recent disclosures about his departure from Lee County schools, Florida Southern College selects a new president, Citrus’ school board will considering increasing starting pay for school bus drivers by 19 percent, and four sisters have graduated as valedictorians from a Titusville high school in the past eight years. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Graduates of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program were honored in a ceremony Sunday. 5000 Role Models, started in 1993 by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson when she was a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board, is a dropout prevention, mentoring program that guides minority male students through high school and into college. Miami Herald.

Broward: School Superintendent Howard Hepburn talks about how the district might proceed with the controversial proposal to close some schools and repurpose others because of declining enrollment and budget pressures, and the changes he thinks are necessary for the district to earn an A grade from the state for the first time in more than a decade. WFOR.

Duval: Revelations about the circumstances of the incoming superintendent’s departure from the Lee County School District and ensuing criticism from members of the community who want to pause negotiations on his contract have not shaken the school board’s confidence in its selection of Christopher Bernier, board chair Darryl Willie said last week. Willie said the board was aware of those details when it decided to hire Bernier. “We did our due diligence, we went down every path, not only background checks, officially, but also we talked to past board members and past staff, not just from Lee, but also Orange (County) and other places to make sure … what his character was. So … we definitely weren’t surprised by it,” he said. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: Wayne Rodolfich has been fired as superintendent of the Lake Wales Charter School District after an investigation into allegations that he had created a hostile work environment and racially discriminated against at least one employee. Friday’s vote by the board came after the results of the investigation by a law firm hired in April were presented to the six board members. Some of those members said they were “shocked” at the results. Lakeland Ledger. Haines City commissioners voted last week to install speed detection cameras in school zones throughout the city. Offenders caught on camera going 10 mph or more over the posted school zone speed limit will be mailed tickets averaging $150. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: The cost of renovations for Riverdale High School in Fort Myers is now estimated at $108 million, according to school district officials. That’s up from the initial estimate of $45 million and an updated projection of $69 million. Funds from the half-cent sales tax approved by voters are paying for the upgrades. Construction began a year ago on parking, a gym, science labs and more, and is expected to be completed by August 2025. WINK.

Brevard: Four sisters have graduated as valedictorians from Astronaut High School in Titusville in the past eight years. In 2018 it was Makaley Rendina, now 24, followed two years later by Alisa, 22, then 20-year-old Taylor two years after that, and now Ryleigh, 18, this year. Their mother, Tracey Rendina, the chair of the math department at the school, credited their achievements to their “great work ethic.” Fox News.

Volusia, Flagler: Several changes to the Volusia school district’s book review policy were approved last week by the school board: Initial conferences can be held remotely; adding language specifying that days are calculated as school days, not work days; and adding a provision saying the superintendent’s decisions can be appealed at the state level. Among other policy changes are requiring employees who use personal phones to communicate school business to “retain any significant work communications that go beyond transitory messages,” and outlining how staff and students can use artificial intelligence. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Graduating seniors from several high school in Volusia and Flagler counties, in cap and gown, walk through the elementary schools they attended as students and teachers cheered. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: District officials are considering having affordable housing for teachers and other district employees built on district-owned land. A developer, One Stop Housing, wants to build 132 apartments on 5 acres of land in Bradenton that would include two four-story buildings with a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Amenities would include a clubhouse, a workspace, a laundry room and a washer and dryer in one- and two-bedroom apartments. School board members will discuss the proposal at a future meeting. Bradenton Herald. Eight schools have been assigned new principals. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: Who are the people who have had district schools named after them? Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Gainesville city commissioners approved a resolution last week opposing the University of Florida’s proposal to impose a more selective admission process at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School. UF wants to tighten admission standards to improve its state ranking. Yonge currently uses a lottery for admission, and the demographics of its students roughly mirror those of the community. WCJB.

Hernando: School board members agreed to start offering district administrators and principals multi-year contracts. To be eligible, employees must have three years of experience at their current job in the district, the highest ranking evaluation and the superintendent’s recommendation. The change goes into effect in the fall. Hernando Sun. Six schools are getting new principals starting July 1. Suncoast News. Here are the valedictorians and salutatorians for seven county high schools. Hernando Sun.

Citrus: School board members will consider a proposal Tuesday to boost the starting pay for school bus drivers from $16.86 to $20.09 per hour as a way to address a shortage. If approved, driver pay would move from the bottom 20 among the state’s districts into the top 10. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: Work has been halted on construction for the proposed Crescent City Elementary School at least until rezoning for the property has been approved by two government commissions. Palatka Daily News.

Madison: Accusations that the school district’s reserve fund has fallen below the state-required 3 percent minimum are untrue, district officials said last week. A county resident made the claim in a recent letter to the Florida Department of Education. Madison County Carrier.

Jefferson: School board members have hired Marlon Ball, a principal in Springfield, Mass., to replace Jackie Pons, whose contract expires June 30. Pons, a former superintendent in Leon County, filed paperwork in March to run for superintendent against incumbent Eydie Tricquet. “I was never notified that I would not be reappointed until after I told her and put it in writing to her that I was running for superintendent,” Pons said. Tricquet said that was untrue, and that Pons had been notified of his employment status on several occasions. Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: Jeremy Martin, a vice president at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, has been named president of Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Martin, 44, becomes the school’s 18th president and the youngest since 1925. He succeeds Anne Kerr, who is retiring after leading the private school for the past 20 years, and begins Aug. 1. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now. A new search committee has been readied to find a new president for Florida Atlantic University. But the composition of the committee has drawn some concerns. Sun Sentinel. A free cybersecurity certificate program targeted for up to 250 veterans, active military, first responders and other governmental workers is being offered by the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee starting next month. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

End to pandemic funds: As federal spending for the post-pandemic academic recovery ends, some education experts worry that student test scores will be adversely affected. “Test scores are not the only measures, but they do connect to what opportunities kids may have later in life,” said Marguerite Roza, a research professor and director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Signs of the times in Duval County, where neighborhoods are trying to rally to save their schools. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff

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