Florida schools roundup: Workers comp, reading bill, top foundations and more

florida-roundup-logoWorkers comp: Florida lawmakers worry that a 14.5 percent increase in workers compensation rates will cost state school districts tens of millions of dollars in what is already looking to be a very tight budget year. “You could foresee some type of legislation filed this session, but the fact remains, as we are sitting here today, school districts are worried. And they should be,” says State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. WFSU.

Reading instruction: A bill is filed in the Florida House to improve reading lessons in schools. The bill, filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, calls for training teachers in “explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading strategies,” and encourages districts to step in earlier to help struggling readers. A similar bill passed the House in the last session, but died in the Senate. Gradebook.

Top-rated foundations: The Pinellas Education Foundation is rated the best in the country for the third straight year, according to a study by the Caruthers Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. Other Florida foundations in the nation’s top 50 are Brevard Schools Foundation (8th), Foundation for Osceola Education (12th), Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools (14th), Education Foundation for Collier County (22nd), Broward Education Foundation (32nd), Educational Foundation of Lake County (40th), Polk Education Foundation & Business Partnership (41st), Public Education Foundation of Marion County (43rd), and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County (48th). Gradebook.

Charter capital funds: The Florida Department of Education now proposes denying state construction and maintenance money for charter schools that get an F grade from the state or two consecutive grades lower than a C. The rule was tweaked after an earlier version was challenged as discriminatory against charter schools in poor communities. Charter school advocates say they will continue to fight the rules through an administrative hearing. Politico Florida.

Open enrollment: Students may attend any public school in Palm Beach County that has more than 10 percent of its slots available, under a new policy approved by the school board. Palm Beach Post. Only four schools in St. Johns County have enough space to accommodate students who want to take advantage of the state’s new open enrollment law. The district’s policy is that a school has to be under 80 percent capacity to accept those students. St. Augustine Record.

Teachers overwhelmed: Teachers in Orange County say at a union meeting that they are overwhelmed by the number of things they now must do outside of the classroom. School board member Nancy Robbinson urged teachers to bring their concerns to the bargaining table, and to lobby state legislators. Orlando Sentinel.

Retroactive pay hikes: Duval County School District police officers will get a pay hike of 1.4 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2015, and a $500 bonus. Florida Times-Union. Non-instructional employees in the Flagler County School District are getting a pay raise retroactive to July 1. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Equal access ruling: The Lake County School Board attorney will advise members Monday on their options after an appeals court ruled that a gay-straight alliance could be established at Carver Middle School. Legal experts say the chances of overturning the decision are slim. Daily Commercial.

Energy-efficient school: A new high school in Miami will be the first in the county to be energy efficient and saltwater resistant. The magnet school MAST@FIU is being built on the campus of Florida International University and should be open by January 2019 at a cost of $12.6 million. Miami Herald.

School impact fee: The Citrus County Commission extends a moratorium on the county’s impact fee to May 2017. Collection of impact fees was halted in 2015 in an effort to boost construction. Fees collected help pay for schools, and the moratorium has cost the county about $4 million. Citrus County Chronicle.

Levy referendum: The Gulf County School Board agrees to a special election March 7 to ask voters to renew a 1-mill additional operating levy. The levy was previously approved in 2009 and 2013. Port St. Joe Star.

Merger decision delayed: The Jefferson County School Board delays a decision until spring on whether to merge Jefferson Elementary into Jefferson Middle-High School. WFSU.

School vs. country club: Residents at a country club are threatening to sue after the Palm Beach County School Board approves a new school nearby. Mizner Country Club residents say the proposed Divine Savior Academy on Lyons Road would make a congested and dangerous traffic area even worse. Palm Beach Post.

Traffic concerns: Residents who live near West Broward High School and the Somerset Academy say traffic congestion has eased since Pembroke Pines city officials opened a nearby parking lot for student dropoffs. Sun-Sentinel.

Student newspapers: Student newspapers are disappearing at Volusia and Flagler counties high schools, a trend that is reflected around the United States. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Employees honored: The Manatee County School District chooses four finalists for teacher of the year and four for support employee of the year. The teachers are Joseph Baker, Buffalo Creek Middle; Josephine Johnson, Tara Elementary; Nicholas Leduc, Braden River Elementary; and Courtney Walker, Bashaw Elementary. The support employees are Alfonzo Cruz, Lee Middle; Michael Brackman, Johnson Middle; Valerie Olmstead-Dugan, food and nutrition services; and Jennifer Polson, Wakeland Elementary. The winners will be announced in March. Bradenton Herald.

Disciplinary actions: The Lee County School Board suspends a teacher for inappropriate conduct and comments. Cameron Howard, a teacher at Orangewood Elementary School, is suspended without pay until his case is reviewed by an arbitrator. The board also fired an East Lee County High School security guard. Orlando Torres was accused of making “inappropriate comments and sexual advances” to female students. Fort Myers News-Press.

Student arrested: An 18-year-old student at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton is arrested and accused of assaulting an assistant principal who was trying to break up a fight. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: House Speaker Richard Corcoran is right about one thing – there certainly is evil afoot in Tallahassee. But it’s not in the form of the teachers union. Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times. Teachers unions aren’t evil. But tuition vouchers aren’t a plot to strand poor kids in already-strapped schools, either. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.

Student enrichment: The Florida Department of Education’s Pop-Up Quiz Show stops at challenger Middle School in Leon County. The traveling show is part of the Just Read, Florida! initiative. Cape Coral Daily Breeze.