Florida schools roundup: Textbook challenges, school taxes and more

Textbook challenges: A bill is filed that would expand the law allowing anyone to challenge materials used in public school classrooms. H.B. 827, filed by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, would give challengers the right to challenge books and also suggest replacements to both local school boards and the State Board of Education. Those boards would then be required to ask publishers of the suggested alternatives if they wanted to make a pitch for public school business. Right now, nearly every state school district buys textbooks for core courses from a state-approved list that is reviewed by teachers and experts hired by the Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel.

School tax hike: The Palm Beach County School District is considering asking voters to raise their property taxes so the district can boost teacher salaries. School officials say the only way experienced teachers can expect significant raises is if voters agree to boost the current $25 tax per $100,000 of assessed property value to $45. That tax was approved in 2010 to provide money to hire teachers for arts, music, physical education and specialized choice programs, and generated about $43 million last year. The tax is up for renewal next November. Palm Beach Post.

Schools of Hope: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says charter schools opening under the state’s “Schools of Hope” legislation must be innovative and go to the areas with the greatest needs. “For our movement, we need to be careful and continue to go out there and innovate and have the success … rather than go out there and there is money to be made opening up in this nice neighborhood,” Corcoran said at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s national meeting in Nashville last week. redefinED.

Turnaround success: As the Duval County School District begins the challenge of turning around eight struggling schools, it has a shining example of success at Dinsmore Elementary School. The school has gone from one of the 300 lowest-rated schools a few years ago to being named a School of Excellence by the state. Dinsmore is one of just five state schools that improved from a D or F grade to an A in three years, then repeated the grade a second straight year. Dinsmore’s formula has been hiring reading and math coaches and a specialist who helps struggling readers catch up, starting an incentive program to hire and retain high-rated teachers, and winning community support. Florida Times-Union.

School segregation: Data from an Associated Press project on school segregation show that nearly a fifth of Jacksonville students attend schools that have black enrollment of 90 percent or higher. Seven of the county’s 10 most segregated schools are charter or magnet schools. WJXT.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County School Board will meet today to discuss an “important update prior to negotiations with HCTA (teachers union),” says school chief of staff Alberto Vazquez. The teachers have been protesting the district’s refusal to provide raises that were promised in 2013. The district says it doesn’t have the money. Gradebook.

School rezoning: This week, the Palm Beach County School Board will take up the rezoning of schools prompted by the closing of Odyssey Middle School at the end of this school year. The 849 Odyssey students will be rezoned to five schools, and three of the schools project capacity or over-capacity enrollment due to the rezoning. Sun-Sentinel.

Child abuse case: Okaloosa County School District investigator Arden Farley, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and other witnesses are expected to testify Tuesday at a hearing on the way the district handled a teacher’s alleged abuse of a non-verbal child with autism. The teacher, Marlynn Stillions, has been charged with child abuse without great bodily harm, while Farley and former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan are charged with failure to report suspected child abuse. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Employees honored: Ruby Cox, a kindergarten paraprofessional at Reddick-Collier Elementary School, is named the Marion County School District’s school employee of the year. Ocala Star-Banner. Mary Alice Myers, the assistant director of exceptional student education programs in Volusia County, is awarded the 2017 Willard Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award by the Florida Association of School Psychologists. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School board elections: Melissa Byrd says she is running for the District 7 seat on the Orange County School Board, currently held by Christine Moore. The seat will be open because Moore says she is leaving to run for the county commission. Apopka Voice.

Personnel moves: Jessica Richardson will be the principal at a St. Johns County K-8 school in Nocatee that opens next August. Richardson has been principal at Ocean Palms Elementary School. Ponte Vedra Recorder.

Renaming a school: The Pasco County School District wants to rename Ridgewood High School after it’s closed in June and reopened next year as a magnet high school for technical education. It’s asking the public for suggestions. Gradebook.

Notable deaths: Donald Hulmes, longtime attorney for the Broward County School Board, dies at the age of 90. Sun-Sentinel.

Student found: A 17-year-old Columbia County girl who ran away with her soccer coach is found in Syracuse, N.Y., and returned to her parents. Her coach, 27-year-old Rian Rodriguez, is arrested and charged with interference with a child’s custody. School officials say Rodriguez has been suspended as coach at Fort White High School. WJAX. WJBD. Associated Press.

Controlling brawl: Efforts to control an escalating brawl at Wellington High School last week were hampered by the presence of students trying to film the fight on their phones, say school officials. Palm Beach Post.

Teen who died named: Fourteen-year-old Kamarr D. Scott is the 7th-grader who collapsed last week during a physical education class at the Somerset Academy Village charter school in Wilton Manors and later died, according to Broward County sheriff’s deputies. The Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy, but is not expected to have a cause of death for at least a month. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Sex offenders near schools: Nearly 560 registered sex offenders live in Leon County, and an analysis shows that most of the schools that have offenders living less than a mile away are the poorest schools in the county. Tallahassee Democrat.

Ex-coach convicted: Former Tate High School assistant football coach Charlie Hamrick is found guilty of six counts of capital sexual battery of a child under the age of 12, and is sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: Public criticism of the Brevard County School District’s settlement for a botched software package is warranted. It’s a bad ending to a horrible waste of public money, and the district should provide a better explanation on why this agreement makes sense. Florida Today. The Collier County School Board made the wrong call in joining the lawsuit against the state’s new education law. State Rep. Byron Donalds, Naples Daily News. A new early-education initiative in Hillsborough County, Bold Beginnings, is the sort of proactive approach that a growing, diverse area needs to take in preparing the next generation for the global economy. Tampa Bay Times. Republicans are turning our traditional public schools into centers of cultural conflict, where popular ignorance is valued over wisdom, inconvenient truths and exploration by passing a law that institutionalizes academic censorship in our public schools. Bill Maxwell, Tampa Bay Times. A group of St. Petersburg parents has started a renaissance that can be a model for raising the game at more of Pinellas County’s neighborhood schools as well as those across the state. Tampa Bay Times. Please express your gratitude for the work of Lee County educators by urging our elected representatives to support our legislative priority No. 1. We are asking the state to fund a pilot program that we believe can be used across the state to recruit and retain effective and highly effective teachers. Cathleen Morgan, Fort Myers News-Press. Poverty is a 50-pound backpack carried to school daily by too many children. We’re doing what we can to relieve them of that overwhelming burden but we can’t do it alone and now we’re stuck with three unpleasant options for Patterson Elementary School. I implore you to contact your legislators to voice your concerns about these options and about the importance of local control for our schools and our students. Superintendent Bill Husfelt, Panama City News Herald.

Student enrichment: The University of Florida receives a $21 million grant that will extend a program that provides support for training future teachers to better serve disabled students. University of Florida. Students in the Weitz Construction Academy at Seminole Ridge High School finish their sixth house for Habitat for Humanity. Palm Beach Post. At least 15 schools in the Tampa Bay area begin their days with moments of mindfulness to calm students and prepare them for learning. Tampa Bay Times. Twenty-five Brevard, five Indian River, six Martin and four St. Lucie schools are named Schools of Excellence by the Florida Department of Education. Florida Today. TCPalm. St. Petersburg Collegiate High School is one of 342 U.S. schools selected by the U.S. Department of Education as Blue Ribbon schools. Tampa Bay Reporter. Two Lake County students, Umatilla High senior Gisselle Martinez-Perez and Tavares High senior Tyreana Andre, are honored by the Florida Department of Education with the Commissioner’s Leadership Award, which is given to students who continue to work toward their academic goals despite personal hardship. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff