Florida schools roundup: Construction funds, Title I, vouchers’ costs and more

Construction funds: Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approve issuing up to $233 million in education construction bonds. Now legislators have to reconcile their differences on the amount they’ll commit to the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) program. The Senate bill uses bonding and calls for $617 million for PECO, including $75 million each for public and charter schools. The House bill does not use bonding and allocates lower overall PECO spending, including $100 million for charter schools and $20 million for public schools. News Service of Florida. The Volusia County School Board considers ways to catch up on deferred school maintenance. District officials say many of the problems that have been temporarily fixed over the past 10 years now need a permanent solution, but they’re not sure they’ll have the money needed. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Title I spending: An amendment recently added to a bill that revises charter schools regulations would limit the amount of Title I funding school districts can spend on administrative overhead and required services for specific groups of students. Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, says the change aligns the bill with others that push more authority to school principals and away from centralized administrations. “We need to figure out how to get those dollars down to the school site, where the student is,” he said. redefinED.

Vouchers’ hidden costs: Many parents who accept state vouchers to help their special-needs children attend private schools are unaware that by doing so, they lose lose some or most of the protections of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One of them, Tamiko Walker of Port St. Lucie County, whose son has a speech and language disability, found this out after accepting money from Florida’s McKay scholarship, the largest of 10 disability scholarship programs in the United States. “Once you take those McKay funds and you go to a private school, you’re no longer covered under IDEA — and I don’t understand why,” Walker said. New York Times.

ELL success story: English language learners (ELL) at High Point Elementary School are bucking the national trends by equaling or surpassing their peers at other struggling schools in Pinellas County on tests that are considered predictors of how students will perform on the Florida Standards Assessments. ELL students make up about a third of High Point’s enrollment, and about 80 percent of them are Hispanic. “They’re defying some national trends, which is pretty exciting,” said Joyce Nutta, a world languages professor at the University of Central Florida who has been developing teacher training methods at High Point. Tampa Bay Times.

Elementary mentoring: Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt is launching a drive to find 1,000 mentors for the county’s elementary schools. Mentors would visit the district’s high-poverty schools twice a month for 30 to 60 minutes to offer students advice and encouragement. The program would follow those already in place in middle and high schools. Panama City News Herald.

Superintendent’s job: The Flagler County School Board chooses four finalists for the superintendent’s job. They are: James Tager, principal at Atlantic High School in Volusia County; Jeffrey Umbaugh, an administrator for the Clay County schools; Phyllis Edwards, a superintendent in Georgia for 12 years and a former administrator in Flagler; and Gerald Wilson, a former superintendent of a district in Maryland. Interviews are April 20 and 21. Flagler Live.

School impact fees: The Lake County School Board agrees to waive impact fees on a year-to-year basis for single-family homes built in historic, blighted and undeveloped neighborhoods if they meet certain requirements. Loss of some fees, which total $9,324 per home, is expected to cost the district about $250,000 a year. The measure now goes to the county commission for approval. Orlando Sentinel.

School start times: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins says proposed changes in school start times could be phased in or even delayed a year. He said he’s still considering feedback from the public before making a recommendation to the school board later this month. Under the proposal, most high schools would start at 7:15 a.m. in the next school year, most elementary schools at 8:35 and most middle schools at 9:30. Gradebook.

New school site: Members of an advisory panel split on two potential sites for a new high school in Lee County. The Alva property is 102 acres off Palm Beach Boulevard, while the Gateway property is 55 acres off State Road 82. The school board could make a decision as early as June 6, after hearing from two more committees. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter school extended: The Manatee Charter School is given a year by the school board to improve its academic and administrative performance. The district had recommended terminating the contract with the school, which has 700 students, but reversed its decision and negotiated a plan the charter school must follow to keep its contract. Bradenton Herald.

School tax referendum: The Charlotte County School Board is moving toward the placement of a school tax referendum on the ballot this fall. The board votes on the issue May 9. If approved by voters in November, the tax would bring in about $15 million a year. Charlotte Sun.

Education equity: Education and community leaders will gather Saturday in Tampa to discuss education equity, and how to get more of it. The Real Talk summit is a joint venture among the Florida PTA, Florida Council of Churches, NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens and other organizations. Hillsborough County School Board members, the Children’s Board, the Legislature and community leaders have have been invited to serve on the panel. Gradebook.

Contract dispute: A special magistrate is recommending a compromise in the contract impasse between the Pasco County School District and the union representing non-instructional employees. The union wants a 3.35 percent pay hike. The district is offering 2.7 percent, and the magistrate is suggesting 3 percent. If the two sides cannot agree with the recommendation, the dispute will be settled by the school board. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent evaluation: The Hernando County School District and a University of South Florida professor reach an agreement on setting up a survey that would allow district employees to rate Superintendent Lori Romano. Tampa Bay Times.

Union election: Gordan Longhofer and Justin Katz will meet in a runoff for the presidency of the Palm Beach County teachers union. There were eight candidates, and since none got a majority of the vote the runoff is required. Katz was one of four candidates initially left off the ballot by the union for letting his membership lapse, but later was reinstated at the urging of the state teachers union. Teachers will get their ballots next week and must return them by May 5. Palm Beach Post.

Student code of conduct: A meeting to discuss changes to the Pasco County School District’s Code of Student Conduct is delayed until April 18 because proper notification to the public did not follow state law requirements. Tampa Bay Times.

Financial advice: The Polk County School Board agrees to ask for bids to find a financial adviser for its $179 million debt service program. The decision came after the current adviser, Ford & Associates of Tampa, asked for a contract to run through Aug. 30, 2021. Ford has advised the district for more than a decade. Lakeland Ledger.

No empty seat allowed: Hudson High School officials turn down a request to leave an empty seat at graduation to honor a student killed in a car crash in February. Isaac Mercado asked the school for the empty seat to remember Felicia Baxter, and collected 1,200 signatures on a petition supporting the request. Pasco County school officials say there is no policy on such a request, and no final decision has been made. WPTV.

Students injured: A 14-year-old girl is hit by a car and critically injured as she walked to her bus stop in Fort Pierce. TCPalm. Seven students are taken to a hospital after a school bus was hit by a car at a Sarasota County intersection. The bus, which was carrying 12 special-needs students from the Oak Park School, careened into a pole when a car turned in front of it and struck it. All the students were treated and released. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. WFTS. Minor injuries are reported to several students who were in a Palm Beach County school bus that was hit from behind by a car. Palm Beach Post. The 15-year-old Eustis High School Curtwright Campus student hit by vehicle earlier this week as he walked to school is going to be okay, according to Lake County school officials. Orlando Sentinel.

Pot brownies: Two Brevard County high school students are hospitalized after eating brownies laced with marijuana at a Heritage High School baseball game. Robert Johnson and his 17-year-old daughter were arrested and face felony charges for allegedly making the brownies and selling them at the game. WFTV.

Opinions on schools: Builders and developers on a county advisory committee are pitching all sorts of alternatives to the school board’s request to double the impact fee on new single-family homes. But, as committee member Hugh Townsend says, “These are wonderful ideas, but the practicality is they’re not going to be implemented. Let’s move on.” C.T. Bowen, Tampa Bay Times. Community involvement is the key to bridging the achievement gap in Madison County’s schools. Greene Publishing Inc. While privatization shifts benefits to a few, all taxpayers inevitably bear the costs. Because the public funds charters, they should be accountable to the public and parents should have clear information on academic success rates to make informed educational decisions. Teresa Jenkins, Florida Politics.

Student enrichment: Henderson Heussner, a senior at Estero High School, is named the Army’s military child of the year by the group Operation Homefront. Fort Myers News-Press. Christian School students win three first-place awards at the American Association of Christian Schools fine arts national competition in South Carolina last week. Bradenton Herald. Estero High School student Sarah Schwartz, 14, wins $30,000 on the TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Fort Myers News-Press. Fifty-one students from Flagler County are invited to the Future Problem Solving Program international competition in June in Wisconsin. Daytona Beach News-Journal.