Florida schools roundup: Diverging recess bills, charter schools and more

Recess in schools: The Florida Senate unanimously approves a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily recess for the state’s nearly 1.3 million elementary school students. But the bill is at odds with the one moving through the House now, which would eliminate the daily mandate, allow schools to blend time in physical education classes with recess time, and not require any recess for fourth- and fifth-graders. Senate bill sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, says she hopes the House gets the message that senators “feel strongly that if we’re going to have recess, it should be actual recess.” Miami HeraldSunshine State News. Politico Florida.

Charter funding challenge: The Florida Association of Independent Public Schools files an administrative challenge to the state’s new rules for charter school capital funding. The rule denies any construction and maintenance money to charter schools that receive an F grade from the state, or consecutive D grades. There are no such restrictions on traditional schools, and the association argues that all public schools should be treated the same. Gradebook.

Charter changes: Three Duval County middle schools could become charter schools in the next school year if the Legislature approves a bill that allows such transitions for traditional schools that get D or F grades for three years in a row. Ribault Middle School, Matthew Gilbert Middle and Northwestern Middle could all change hands, says school board chairwoman Paula Wright. “We still have time to pull together as a community so we make certain they understand that this is not what we want,” Wright said. Florida Times-Union.

School bus bill: The Senate Criminal Justice Committee approves a bill that would stiffen penalties for drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses and kill or injure someone. They would be required to pay bigger fines, lose their licenses for a year and perform community service in a trauma center or hospital. News Service of Florida.

New name for school: The Orange County School Board approves a name change for a new school. The original name, Innovation Park Middle School (IPMS) included the initials for premenstrual syndrome, and about 300 parents lobbied for a change to avoid embarrassment for students. So the board has dropped a word to make the new name Innovation Middle School, which opens in August. Orlando Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: A special magistrate recommends a 3 percent salary increase for non-instructional personnel in the Pasco County School District. The employees wanted 3.35 percent, while the district was offering 2.7 percent. The sides have been at an impasse since November. If both sides don’t agree on the recommendation, the school board will decide. Gradebook. Mediation between the Santa Rosa School District and its teachers union fails when the sides cannot agree on pay issues. The district is offering an average 1.8 percent raise, while the union wants 2.77 percent. The dispute now goes to a special magistrate, who will make a recommendation. If the impasse remains unresolved, the school board will decide. Pensacola News Journal.

Superintendent semifinalists: Nine semifinalists are chosen for the Alachua County school superintendent’s job. They are: Karen Clarke, Alachua County’s deputy superintendent; Vickie Cartwright, associate superintendent in Orange County; Ronald “Scott” Fritz, chief of staff for teaching, leading and learning in Osceola County; Carol Kindt, deputy superintendent and chief human resources officer in Brevard County; Sylvia Lockett-Jackson, director of career and technical education in Gadsden County; Mark Mullins, deputy superintendent and chief operating officer in Brevard County; Vickie Murillo, chief academic and accountability officer in Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri; Christiana Otuwa, deputy superintendent in Rochester, N.Y.; and Geneva Stark, human resource administrator for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. Interviews are May 10-12. Gainesville Sun.

Superintendent’s review: Lee County School Superintendent Greg Adkins gets largely favorable comments from the school board members during his informal midyear review. But most said there is room for improvement in budgeting, marketing and dealing with problems. Adkins, who has been in the job 18 months, will be formally reviewed and given a grade in September. Fort Myers News-Press.

Superintendent fired: Cape Coral Charter School Superintendent Nelson Stephenson agrees to an early termination of his contract. He says he hopes his departure ends the school’s ongoing dispute with the city council over financial issues. Jacque Collins, principal of Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, is the interim superintendent. Fort Myers News-Press.

Elected or appointed? The Martin County School Board continues to debate the merits of an appointed vs. an elected superintendent, even though voters have rejected the proposal four times. Board members agreed to discuss the issue again April 18 and in May before deciding whether to put the question before voters. TCPalm.

Reasons for leaving: Vernon Orndorff was an assistant superintendent in the Flagler County School District and widely thought to be the natural successor to Superintendent Jacob Oliva, who announced last fall he was leaving to take a job with the Florida Department of Education. But when the Flagler County School Board voted to conduct a national search, it prompted Orndorff to look for another job. He is the new superintendent of the Milford Independent School District, just south of Dallas. Palm Coast Observer. Two members of the citizens advisory committee include Orndorff in the list of finalists for the Flagler superintendent’s job, even after he accepted a job in Texas. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School plus YMCA: Pinellas County school officials are considering a plan to create a school with a YMCA facility on the site of a former middle school in northeast St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay Times.

Weather closes schools: Schools in Bay and Holmes counties are closed today due to a severe weather threat. Panama City News Herald.

Charter extension: The Manatee County School Board will vote next week on whether to give the Manatee Charter School a one-year extension. A proposed deal reached last week would allow the extension if the school follows an improvement plan aimed to address academic and administrative problems. Bradenton Herald.

Data dashboard: St. Johns County student information is being pulled together in a “data dashboard” that will allow teachers and administrators to access easily. Student assessment scores, report cards, attendance trends and other school-related data will all be in one place for efficient use, according to school officials. St. Augustine Record.

School start times: The Hillsborough County School District wants to add 15 minutes to the school day for elementary school students, and reduce school time by 20 to 30 minutes for middle and high schools. Most high schools would start at 7:15 a.m., most elementary schools at 8:35, most middle schools at 9:30. The changes are forecast to save about $2.7 million. The school board votes on the new start times April 25. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel changes: Teresa Lantigua Peterson, 51, is the new spokesperson for the Hillsborough County School District, and Deborah E. Cook, 42, is the new chief academic officer. Gradebook.

Land deal approved: The Jupiter City Council votes to offer $2.8 million for 2 acres of land beside Jupiter High School. The land will be used to create a new transportation pattern around the school. Palm Beach Post.

Board being sued: The mother of an autistic 13-year-old boy is suing the Polk County School District in federal court for negligence. The boy was left on a school bus twice in March, and he walked and hitchhiked 30 miles home. The bus driver and attendant, who told authorities they didn’t check the bus before parking it for the day, both resigned. Lakeland Ledger.

Teacher pleads guilty: Porsha Session, a fourth-grade teacher at Deerfield Beach Elementary School, pleads guilty to a federal charge of obstructing an official proceeding. Session, 31, learned from a relative that a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement team was investigating a drug dealer, and that Homeland Security had a confidential informant close to him. Sessions gave that information to the drug dealer. A spokesperson for the Broward County School District says Session remains in the classroom. Sentencing is June 21. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Coach resigns: James Harris, a teacher and basketball coach at Mariner High School who is accused of having a sexual relationship with a student, resigns from his job. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher suspended: An art teacher at Hyde Grove Early Learning Center in Jacksonville is suspended for 30 days after he is suspected of being intoxicated at school. Dale Roberts, 56, was asked to submit to an alcohol and drug test, but left the school before he could be tested. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: Six months ago, the Polk County School District’s tax committee wisely agreed that the levy’s chances with the voters could be boosted with a campaign to inform taxpayers about the projects it has funded. Unfortunately, the effort has moved little in the past half-year. Lakeland Ledger. The Palm Beach County School District has 18 summer projects scheduled with money from the extra half-cent sales tax voters approved in November, and will aggressively schedule other projects over the next 10 years to update our schools and facilities. Superintendent Robert Avossa, Sun-Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Seth Gozar, a senior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, is chosen as one of 16 U.S. winners in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. More than 330,000 entries were filed. Gozar’s eight-piece portfolio included short stories and poems. Florida Times-Union. Lincoln Middle School math students win their third straight title at the state MathCounts championship. Gainesville Sun. Forty-seven Polk County students are honored for making significant turnarounds in school behavior, attendance and academic achievement. Lakeland Ledger. Eighteen students in the Nature Coast Technical High School’s allied health program get 20 hours of hands-on experience in a long-term health care facility in Brooksville. Tampa Bay Times. Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey provides clothes, shoes, toiletries and school materials for 20-30 needy students a week from its newly opened Treasure Chest. Tampa Bay Times.