Florida schools roundup: Teacher evaluations, graduation rates and more

Teacher evaluations: Local school boards would be given the power to set evaluation standards for teachers, if a bill filed in the House gets through the Legislature next year. H.B. 427, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would allow school districts to opt out of the state teacher evaluation and merit pay plan and give them the option of creating their own standards for evaluating teachers. “It would return the authority back to the local school board, which I think is very important,” says Orange County School Board member Linda Kobert. Florida Politics.

Graduation rates: The U.S. high school graduation rate hit an all-time high at 84.1 percent in 2016, according to data from the National Center for Education. In 2015 it was 83.2 percent. Florida’s graduation rate was 80.7 percent. White students graduated at an 85.1 percent rate, blacks at 72.3 percent and Hispanics at 75.6 percent. Education Week.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union calls the latest pay offer from the school district disappointing. The district is offering $1.8 million for bonuses to spread among the 20,000 employees represented by the union. The union has asked for the raises school officials promised years ago, which the district says could cost it as much as $17 million and which it says it cannot afford. “This is a pay cut,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the union’s executive director, who says the offer is $92 per person before taxes and won’t cover the increase in health insurance premiums. “I can’t see that satisfying people.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Negotiations between Brevard teachers and the school district resume, but little progress over raises is made. The district is offering $876 to the highest-rated teachers and $600 to effective ones. Union officials countered with a $1,075 raise for highly effective teachers and $800 for effective ones. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

Brown sentenced: Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is sentenced to five years in prison for fraud and tax crimes that include raising about $833,000 for a sham education charity, One Door for Education. Brown’s chief of staff got four years and an official of the charity was sentenced to 21 months. Brown, a 71-year-old Democrat from Jacksonville, must report to prison no later than Jan. 8. Florida Times-Union.

Early learning programs: The Florida Office of Early Learning is proposing that the Citrus County early learning coalition program be merged with the Pasco-Hernando program. There are 30 early learning coalitions in the state, and some Florida legislators have been pushing to reduce that number. Citrus executive director Jim Farrelly says the proposal is “likely controversial” and says it is far from being a done deal. Gradebook.

Superintendent’s evaluation: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa will get his annual evaluation from the school board Wednesday, and with good reviews could receive his first raise since taking the job in June 2015. Avossa makes $325,000 a year, and is the third-highest paid superintendent in the state. Palm Beach Post.

Tracking students: The St. Johns County School District is hiring a company to track its students’ progress and success after high school graduation. StudentTracker’s reports are expected to help district officials assess the success of their programs, and make adjustments if necessary. St. Augustine Record.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee approves a bill that would create a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday July 27 through Aug. 5, 2018. Exempt from taxes would be clothes costing $100 or less; school supplies costing $15 or less; and personal computers and accessories costing $1,000 or less. News Service of Florida.

School board seats: Gov. Rick Scott appoints Lee Hansen to the open District 3 seat on the Escambia County School Board. He replaces Linda Moultrie, who resigned in August. Hansen is the first white person to represent the district in more than three decades, and leaves the board with no black members. The Pulse. WEAR. Nancy Robbinson, a member of the Orange County School Board since 2008, says she is running for the board chair seat being vacated by Bill Sublette. Orlando Sentinel.

Personnel moves: The Pasco County School District is hiring two lobbyists. The Tallahassee law firm of GrayRobinson will lobby the Legislature part-time for the district. Kim McDougal, a former official in the Gov. Rick Scott administration, will represent the firm. The district also is hiring Wayne Bertsch, a government consultant, as a lobbyist for the district. He replaces Spencer Pylant. Gradebook. Pasco school officials are recommending that Gulfside Elementary principal Jeanne Krapfl fill the principal’s job at Deer Park Elementary. The appointment leaves two openings for principal, at Gulfside and New River Elementary. Gradebook.

The rapping teacher: Michael Bonner, the rapping teacher from North Carolina who will speak at the PINC (People, ideas, nature and creativity) Conference in Sarasota on Thursday, talks about early education and teaching strategies in a Q&A. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Drawing draws arrest: A Mexico City man is arrested and charged with threat to kill or do bodily injury for drawing a scene of violence on his stepchild’s homework. Robert Paul Alexander Edwards, 33, drew a scene showing a school on fire, a person running from the school and several others standing in line being shot by another person with the words “pew, pew, pew” beside the shooter. Two bodies were on the ground beside the shooter. Port St. Joe Star. New York Times.

Teacher loses license: Willie Spears, a former Escambia High School football coach who was fired in 2014 for “gross insubordination,” has his license suspended for a year by the state Education Practices Commission of Florida. He was also fined $6,600, put on probation for three years, ordered to complete an ethics course and cannot coach or oversee extracurricular activities. Pensacola News Journal.

Rape suspect playing: A highly rated national basketball prospect arrested and accused of rape in October is back on the court for Orlando Oak Ridge High School. No official charges have been filed, which school officials say is the reason Emmitt Williams, 19, continues to play for Oak Ridge. Fort Myers News-Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Threat brings discipline: A Chiles High School student will be disciplined after sending a message to his 6th period class that he would “blow up” the school the next day. He said it was intended as a joke. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: A proposal advanced last week by a panel revising Florida’s constitution would eliminate an oft-cited barrier to private school choice. The proposal has already incited teeth-gnashing among voucher critics. But the threat that the Blaine Amendment poses to school choice in Florida has been greatly exaggerated. Travis Pillow, redefinED. If we want to find out what makes a “good” teacher, what might help is to listen to our students, and, in so doing, stop evaluating teachers based on their degrees, how well they fill in required paperwork or how many of their students pass. Lynda Case Lambert, Daily Commercial. We’ll find out at a Florida House subcommittee hearing Wednesday if the people who run the state’s tax credit scholarship program are serious about helping students or ideologically motivated (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program.). Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Alyssa Watson, a 13-year-old Palm Bay homeschooled, dual-enrollment student, completes her first semester in the honors program at Eastern Florida State College’s Palm Bay campus. Florida Today.