Florida schools roundup: Charter company costs, teacher issues and more

florida-roundup-logoHigh spending at charters: Troubling patterns emerge from a close look at spending at three charters in Pinellas County operated by Newpoint Education Partners. Invoices and other documents indicate the company was buying goods at often inflated prices from companies that were related to Newpoint and its founder, Marcus Nelson May. Records were loosely kept, and the company was taking a monthly fee that ran into five figures. Newpoint was indicted recently by an Escambia County jury on fraudulent billing and money-laundering charges. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers to sue over pay: Three teachers have notified the Miami-Dade County School District that they intend to file a class action suit over performance pay. The teachers say the district is ignoring the state’s performance pay laws and illegally changed the way tenured teachers are paid. Teachers have been shortchanged by $30 million, they allege. Miami Herald.

Retaliation lawsuit: A Palm Beach Lakes High teacher is suing the Palm Beach County School District after he and about 30 other teachers were fired in what he calls a retaliatory measure by Principal Cheryl McKeever. Malik Leigh, a legal studies teacher and also a practicing attorney, says the teachers were targeted because they made complaints about administrators or were thought to be disloyal to McKeever. Palm Beach Post.

Replacing teachers: The Pinellas County School District is moving quickly to replace teachers at five struggling schools in St. Petersburg. More than 80 teachers have been told they can’t return to the schools or have asked for a transfer. And four of the five principals have been moved to other schools. The teachers union is calling the process “a hatchet job.” Tampa Bay Times.

No reimbursements: Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins says teachers will not have to reimburse the district for “classroom assistance” money they spent on student snacks or edible supplies. Jenkins apologized for the “negative impression” a previous directive caused. Orlando Sentinel.

Bathroom access: School officials from around the state say they are reviewing the Obama administration directive on bathroom access for transgender students, but say they will comply. Districts could lose federal funding if they don’t. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando SentinelSun-Sentinel. Florida Times-UnionLakeland Ledger. Tallahassee Democrat. TCPalm. Bradenton Herald. The Florida Coalition of School Board Members is condemning the order, but the Florida PTA is supportive. Florida Politics. Politico FloridaWTXL. A majority of Marion County School Board members say they will not change their policy requiring transgender students to use the bathroom of their sex at birth. Ocala Star Banner.

Police problems: Broward County School District employees and school board members say the district’s police department problems should have been detected sooner, and question the way the administration’s overhaul of the department is being handled. Sun-Sentinel.

Pledge of Allegiance: The American Atheists activist group is warning all 67 of the state’s school districts that it will be watching how the schools implement the new law that allows students to opt out. WFTV. The Lee County School Board will decide Tuesday whether to approve the way the district informs students that they can choose not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Fort Myers News-Press.

Homeschooling dissuaded: Parents say they were discouraged from homeschooling their son by a Miami-Dade school official, who also overcomplicated the enrollment process and asked for unattainable documentation. “I was told by the school official that I was in violation of the law and that my son would be truant if I did not submit additional information,” the family told the Home School Legal Defense Association. Associated Press.

Teacher pay: Volusia County School Board members say raising teacher pay is a priority for next year’s school budget. The district and its teachers are currently at an impasse. The district says it doesn’t have the money for raises, and the teachers disagree. The board will decide the issue Wednesday. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Guns in schools: The Duval County School District underreported the number of guns in schools to the state’s crime tracking database for the 2014-2015 school year. District officials say two incidents weren’t reported because they didn’t involve a student or they happened after school hours. WTLV.

Hidden discipline records: Records of several Orange County School District employees who were fired have been hidden from public view. School board members generally don’t discuss employee disciplinary actions in public unless the employee appeals the decision. Other Florida districts routinely list employee disciplinary actions in meeting agendas, according to Bill Graham, executive director of the Florida School Labor Relations Service. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher survey: About 90 percent of Hillsborough County teachers believe that they “are encouraged to try new things and can take leadership roles,” according to the district’s annual Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning survey. And almost 76 percent feel they have appropriate autonomy, which was almost a nine point jump from previous year. Tampa Bay Times.

Polk restructuring: The Polk County School Board is being asked to approve changes in the district that will add almost $450,000 in new costs. Among them is a proposal to hire five student success coaches. Lakeland Ledger.

Slow Internet: Brevard County teachers say the district doesn’t have enough computer bandwidth to adequately handle the needs of students, teachers and standardized testing. The district’s IT director acknowledged problems with some Brevard schools’ broadband networks. Florida Today.

Charter request: Charter Schools USA has been trying to get approval for the Pasco Charter Academy for five years. Tuesday, the Pasco County School Board is expected to approve a five-year contract with the company for the school. Gradebook.

Plans on hold: The Hillsborough County School Board agrees to a deal that turns the old Meacham School property over to the Tampa Housing Authority, which says it will build an urban organic farm that would include a kitchen, classroom and a market stand. The board’s plans to build another Meacham Middle School nearby remain on hold. Tampa Bay Times.

Random drug testing: Principals at Monroe County high schools are urging the school board to bring back random drug testing of athletes. It was halted in 2014 by Superintendent Mark Porter, who said it was disruptive because students were taken off campus for the tests. Keynoter.

Driving safety: Officials with the driver safety program Dori Saves Lives say fewer south Florida schools are signing up for the free program. WPTV.

Ongoing discussions: The Lakeland City Commission is accepting a request from Polk County School Board member Hunt Berryman for a continuing discussion so the two groups can work together. The request was prompted by recent comments that the quality of the local public schools was hurting local businesses’ ability to attract quality employees. Lakeland Ledger.

Stock the fridge: A Bay County tutoring company shows its appreciation for teachers with a Facebook campaign that stocked the break room refrigerators at several schools. Panama City News Herald.

Employee arrested: A former accountant at Palm Beach Gardens High School is arrested and accused of stealing more than $7,000 from the school to pay off personal purchases she made using school credit cards. Terri Miller, 55, made the purchases at Sam’s Club and Costco in February 2015, and left the school a month later. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: The Marion County School Board says it isn’t budging on its policy of restricting bathroom access to birth gender. That is ill-advised and shortsighted. Ocala Star Banner. I’m not worried about my kids sharing bathrooms or locker rooms with transgendered individuals. I am worried that schools are about to become the battleground for an issue reminiscent of the civil rights era. Wendy Victora, Northwest Florida Daily News. We don’t trust you, you’ve been sponging off the system, we’re cutting your already exceptionally low pay and a lot of you need to be fired. Florida has a dumb way of treating teachers. Ernest Hooper, Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows businesses to donate corporate income tax revenue to organizations that pay tuition for needy children to choose better schools, including private academies or church-affiliated schools, is worth preserving. Tallahassee Democrat. It is time for the Florida chapter of the NAACP to withdraw from a lawsuit that seeks to end the Florida tax credit scholarship, a 15-year-old choice program that is helping tens of thousands of our children. Mark Coats, Miami Herald. Here are some fundamental facts about the Collier County School District’s finances. Kamela Patton, Naples Daily News. The Pinellas County School District’s leadership must acknowledge the fact that they cannot transform struggling schools with a unilateral top-down approach. All stakeholders, including teachers, must be respected and included in the conversation. Mike Gandolfo, Tampa Bay Times. Obsessing over the bathroom laws is an exercise in futility. Andrew Petiprin, Orlando Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott spends big on business but scrimps on schools and students. Ron Littlepage, Florida Times-Union. One way to address the teacher shortage might be to have district personnel with the necessary credentials leave their duties a few times a month to serve as a substitute teacher. Jeanne Dozier, Fort Myers News-Press. Lawmakers at every level of government should support today’s students. Liza McFadden, Tallahassee Democrat.

Student enrichment: Pam and Les Muma give $5 million to help Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay start a program to teach eighth-graders about personal finance. Part of the donation will go for a new building, which will be called Finance Park. Tampa Bay Times. Some Bay High School students complete the Hancock Bank Financial Cents Program, a curriculum providing the basics in financial literacy. Panama City News Herald. Middle- and high-school students graduate from the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which is a nine-month course taught through the Orlando Science Center that helps business innovators. Orlando Sentinel. Students at Armwood High School host a Seffner Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting. Tampa Bay Times.