Florida schools roundup: Budget plans, improvements, HQ evacuation and more

Education budget plans: The Senate appropriations subcommittee approves a plan to increase preK-12 education spending by $535 million. The panel chairman, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says retaining current property tax rates would let localities collect hundreds of millions of dollars more as property values increase. “We don’t consider the additional amount of taxes they pay to be a tax increase. We consider it incidental to the increase in value in the property,” Simmons said, as a response to the House’s insistence that it is a tax increase. The Senate and House education budgets are now almost $540 million apart. The Senate budget also includes no money for the teacher bonuses program. Simmons implied the program would become part of negotiations between the Senate and House, which has $214 million set aside for the bonus program. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Miami Herald. Naples Daily News. WFSU.

School improvement: The House Education Committee takes up a school improvement bill today that would set aggressive requirements for districts to turn around academically struggling schools. Turnaround plans would be required for schools receiving D or F grades from the state just a few months after the grades are issued. If the plans do not raise the school grade to a C within three years, the schools would be labeled “persistently low-performing” and districts would have to close them, convert them to a charter, or bring in an outside operator. Districts would no longer have the option of carrying out their own turnaround plans. redefinED. Gradebook.

School HQ evacuated: An infestation of vermin and blow flies has forced the evacuation of the Okaloosa County School District Administrative Complex  in Fort Walton Beach. The administration and school board members will work from the Niceville Central Complex until further notice. “I’m not going to have them stay some place that I’m not going to stay in,” says Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. “We’ve tried to put Band-Aids on and fix it, but I’m afraid we may be a bit past that now.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Charter school laws: Florida ranks eighth in the nation in a recent analysis of states’ charter school laws, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Indiana was rated No. 1. Florida ranks highly on autonomy and accountability, for not having caps on the number of charter schools allowed, and for providing a strong appeals process for applicants that are denied. The report notes that state still provides inequitable funding to charter schools. redefinED.

Prom dress flap: Administrators at a Jacksonville high school apologize for putting up photos around the school showing acceptable dresses that “good girls” wear to prom, and ones that are not. The move at Stanton College Prep High School was quickly mocked on social media, and Duval County School District officials said the display was not approved or appropriate. “Please do accept my apology for this poor delivery of information. Our intent is to make sure prom is enjoyable and memorable,” said principal Nongongoma Majova-Seane. WJAX.

Military funding back: The latest Florida House budget restores $14 million for a program that provides money for seven counties to “support the education of students connected with federally owned military installations, NASA property and Indian lands.” Large chunks of Brevard, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, Bay, Duval and Escambia counties have federal lands that does not generate property taxes for schools. Florida Today.

School recess: Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, is coy about whether he influenced the changes that diluted the school recess bill approved Tuesday in the House. “I’ve been very open in terms of some of my concerns with the recess bill as this has gone through and put pressure on districts to address it at the district, which they’ve had an opportunity to do,” he said. Bileca has long been a opponent of mandatory school recess, saying that’s a matter for districts to decide. Miami Herald.

Cuts hit poorer schools: More than 1.6 million U.S. students would be affected if funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is cut, as President Trump proposes in his budget. The program finances extra time for students before and after school and three meals a day. Tampa Bay Times.

School moves on hold: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna puts at least a two-week hold on the proposed moves of the Adult and Continuing Education program and the Pace Secondary School. Concerns about the moves have grown in the community, and among board members, and Hanna said he wants to give everyone time “to take a deep breath.” Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Fight over charter: A neighborhood in South Miami is fighting to stop a proposed charter school for up to 2,500 students. Somerset Academy signed a lease with a church in 2015 and is asking the county commission for a zoning exception to build the school. The hearing is April 20. Miami Herald.

Public records ruling: A circuit judge rules largely in favor of the St. Johns County School Board in a dispute over public records request with Jeff Gray, a parent and self-proclaimed activist. The judge said the school district’s policies on how it responds to public records requests, requiring people who make requests to identify themselves and register, and not allowing videotaping on school property, are in line with state law. The judge did say the district cannot force Gray to submit public records requests solely through the Community Relations Department. St. Augustine Record.

School start times: Two Pasco County schools could get new start times in the fall. Rushe Middle School would begin at 7:25 a.m. instead of its current 8:40 a.m., and Anclote High would start at 8:45 a.m. instead of the current 7:30 a.m. The new Cypress Creek Middle-High School would start at 7:25 a.m. Gradebook. A Gulf Breeze city councilman wants the Santa Rosa County School District to swap start times for the district’s high schools and middle schools. David Landfair, who is also a teacher at Gulf Breeze High, says the switch would allow high school students to participate in more after-school activities. Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says the schedules were changed five or six years ago to save money. Pensacola News Journal.

New school site? A developer is proposing a land-swap with the Manatee County School District. The district would get property just north of SR 70 in Lakewood Ranch and next to the Premier Sports Campus for a new high school, and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch would get 157 acres off SR 64 to develop. Bradenton Herald.

Vocational school: Volusia County School Board member John Hill is proposing the development of a vocational high school, which would be the first in the county. The school would offer training in manufacturing, plumbing, electric work, truck driving, agriculture and medical specialty areas like medical assistant positions. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lawsuit settlement: The Leon County School Board approves a $225,000 settlement to a former employee who accused the board and former Superintendent Jackie Pons of retaliation and race discrimination. Pons demoted Kimberly Hackett from assistant principal at Swift Creek Middle to classroom teacher in 2013 after she made a complaint against another district employee. Tallahassee Democrat.

Student aid forms: More Collier County high school seniors are completing federal student aid applications this year than last, but the students who need the aid the most have the lowest completion rate. Naples Daily News.

FBI looking for teacher: The FBI says it is searching for Corey Perry, a Howell L. Watkins Middle School computer science teacher since 2005 who is facing child pornography charges. He was last seen on March 24. Palm Beach Post. Miami Herald. WPEC.

School threats: A 14-year-old is arrested with a stolen gun and ammunition at Southwest Middle School in Lakeland. He also posted a photo or video on Snapchat showing him holding the gun and making threats to another student. Lakeland LedgerOrlando Sentinel. A 12-year-old Dunnellon Middle School student is arrested and accused of disrupting a school function for making a written threat against the school. Police say the girl wrote in a textbook: “I planned a school shooting. It is going to happen on 3/29/17.” Ocala Star Banner.

Ex-coach arrested: A former football coach at Tate High School is arrested and charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse. Deputies say Charlie Mabern Hamrick, 54, has molested children for at least the past 20 years. Tate was a football coach at Tate from the 2012-2014 seasons. Pensacola News Journal.

Sex assault at school: The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of a sexual battery at Harns Marsh Middle School in 2014. The victim just reported it to her mother Friday. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: It is dismaying that during recent Miami-Dade County School Board meetings the tenor of the conversations among board members, and between board members and staff, threaten the stability of the relationship between the board and administration, which has been the hallmark of our recent success. Board member Marta Perez, Miami Herald. Florida’s teachers deserve a bonus program worthy of the name Best and Brightest. The proposed changes are an improvement over the status quo, but an overhaul is required if legislators truly want to earn an A. Daytona Beach News-Journal.