Florida schools roundup: Financial woes, learning gap, prayer lawsuit and more

florida-roundup-logoFinancial problems: Heavy debt and growing infrastructure problems are putting the Hillsborough County School District in an increasingly dire financial situation. Deferred maintenance issues alone could cost the district $800 million, and up to 80 schools have air-conditioning problems. Meanwhile, payment on debt totals $65 million a year, and the district’s reserves have dropped by more than $200 million in four years. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Hillsborough schools will phase out some courtesy busing to save money. More than 12,400 students now can ride a bus even if they live within 2 miles of their school. District officials will study routes and make recommendations on ending some for middle school and high school students in the 2017-2018 school year. Routes for elementary students will be tightened the following year. Tampa Bay Times.

Achievement gap: The Pinellas County School District announces its strategy for closing the achievement gap between white and minority students on state assessment tests over the next 10 years, and how it will communicate its progress with the community. The plan includes aggressive goals, monitoring, extended learning and greater family and community engagement. Gradebook.

Prayer lawsuit: Cambridge Christian School files a federal lawsuit against the Florida High School Athletic Association, alleging that the organization violated its football players’ religious freedom. The FHSAA denied a request from the school to use a loudspeaker to broadcast a prayer before the state championship game Dec. 4 in Orlando. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. WFLA.

Principal-sharing: Ten Orange County schools are sharing five “master principals” this year. District officials say the move will help develop assistant principals and create a pipeline of future principals. Principals who take on two schools receive an extra $30,000, but the district is expected to save about $280,000. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent evaluation: Lee County School Superintendent Greg Adkins is given a 3.5 rating on a 4-point scale in his evaluation by school board members. The board also added its ideas to the list of Adkins’ district goals, which he will revise and resubmit. Fort Myers News-Press.

Turnaround talk: School officials and community members meet to discuss the turnaround plans for eight Polk County schools. The state has yet to approve plans for five schools, and three others still have conditions to meet before final approval. The state Board of Education will reconsider the plans Oct. 26. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter school: A proposed charter school is rejected by the Volusia County School Board. The application for the Volusia Classical Academy met state standards in only six of 22 categories, school officials say. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher shortage: The Citrus County School District is still trying to fill 28 teacher slots. Citrus County Chronicle.

Federal rules replies: About 900 people have submitted suggestions to the Florida Department of Education on the new federal school accountability rules. More than half the comments came from teachers and students’ parents. Most are in favor of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Gradebook.

School merger: The Manatee County School Board approves hiring an architect and a construction manager to build a K-8 International Baccalaureate school. The school will replace and merge Wakeland Elementary School and Johnson Middle School. Bradenton Herald.

School adds a grade: Daniel Academy, a Jacksonville school that helps special-needs students transition to public schools, is adding a sixth grade. WJAX.

Healthy options: The Lake County School District’s nutrition department joins the White House Chef’s Move to Schools Initiative to provide healthier meal options at schools. Daily Commercial.

Superintendent finalists: The St. Johns County School Board sets the schedule to interview the four finalists for the superintendent’s job. Interviews are Oct. 6-7, and the board will make its decision Oct. 11. St. Augustine Record.

Drone education: A Fort Myers company is trying to get school districts interested in providing drone education. Soaring Sky has produced an introductory course covering drone history, programming, use and safety. WGCU.

School bus crash: A 30-year-old man is critically injured when his vehicle runs into the back of a school bus near Brooksville. The bus driver and two passengers were not injured. Tampa Bay Times.

Guns and school: A 16-year-old Fort Pierce Westwood High School student is arrested after bringing a BB gun to the school. TCPalm. A 7-year-old student finds a loaded gun in his backpack at Treasure Coast Elementary School in Vero Beach. Officials say it belongs to his father, an Indian River County sheriff’s corrections deputy. TCPalm. A bullet hole is discovered in a window at the Fort Pierce Magnet School Of Arts. TCPalm.

Student arrested: A 15-year-old student at Okaloosa Academy is arrested Friday and accused of attacking a 64-year-old school staffer in a hallway. The attack was caught on camera. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: Big classes violate the state constitution and the will of the voters. The best fix would be for our governor and legislators to simply start funding schools properly. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. If state officials are convinced a bonus program for teachers is the right way to go, the least they can do is base the money on what is happening in classrooms today rather than a standardized test taken years ago. Gainesville Sun. The Manatee school superintendent details the empty student stations in the district. Diana Greene, Bradenton Herald. Which of the five types of teachers is most effective? Terri Friedlander, Tallahassee Democrat. Here’s why some black leaders are fighting the NAACP over charter schools. Mother Jones.

Student enrichment: Santaluces High School journalism students grill Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa during a 40-minute Q&A on a variety of topics, from teacher evaluations and open enrollment to the different ways high schools fund sports teams. Palm Beach Post. School officials hope a new hydroponic garden at Vanguard High School will provide all the romaine lettuce needed for lunchtime salads. Ocala Star Banner. Trinity Catholic High School starts an equestrian team, the only one in Marion County. Ocala Star Banner. The Link Up Program returns to Leon County school. The program puts musical instruments in the hands of all the county’s fourth-graders and provides instruction. Tallahassee Democrat. Art students at Lincoln High School mark International Day of Peace with a special project. Tallahassee Democrat. Aeris Melvin. a 17-year-old junior with special needs, is named to the Freeport High School cheerleading team. Northwest Florida Daily News. Eighteen St. Johns County students are named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. St. Augustine Record.