Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, union bill, impact fees and more

Bright Futures: Florida Senate leaders want to amend the higher education bill by incorporating the proposed Bright Futures expansion into it. The bill would expand and fully fund Bright Futures scholarships and restore Medallion coverage to pay for 75 percent of tuition and fees. It would also roll the $130 million for the programs into the legislation. Last year the money was put in the general fund and was available for just one year. Legislators are trying to make the expansion permanent. If the bill is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee today, it moves on to the Senate floor. Politico Florida.

Union bill advances: A bill that could affect Florida teacher unions is approved by the House’s Government Accountability Committee. The bill requires all public-sector unions whose dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent of all those eligible to reapply for certification. The bill exempts unions representing police officers, firefighters and prison guards. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, says it will make unions more accountable. Critics call it a “union-busting” bill. Politico Florida. WCTV. Florida Politics. WFSU. Capitol News Service.

Impact fees: Senate lawmakers continue to work on amending a bill that spells out when government agencies such as school districts can start collecting impact fees from housing developers. Developers want the fees payment as late as possible. The original bill called for fees to be due when a certificate of occupancy is issued. One of many amendments changes the date to when the building permit is issued. It’s favored by government agencies, which want to collect the money sooner so they can start building infrastructure such as schools. Politico Florida.

Teachers honored: Kyle Dencker, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, is named the Orange County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Five finalists are named for the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Jennifer Jackson, 7th grade science, Stewart Middle; Alexa Trafficante, 4th grade, Gorrie Elementary; Bonnie Bresnyan, exceptional student education, Lewis Elementary; Nicole Meyerson, 5th grade, Carrollwood Elementary; and Lisabeth Leist, math, Steinbrenner High. Four finalists also are chosen for diversity educator of the year and for instructional support employee of the year. Winners will be announced Jan. 16. Tampa Bay Times.

Contract negotiations: The Broward County School District and its teachers union reach a tentative deal that would give most teachers raises of 2.6 to 3.5 percent. Teacher assistants would get raises ranging from 2 percent to 2.57 percent, and technical support staff would receive 2.2 percent raises, if the contracts are ratified by the union and the school board. The agreement will cost the district about $24 million. Sun-Sentinel. The Brevard County teachers union and district reach a tentative agreement on moving early-release days from Wednesdays to Fridays. The two sides have yet to reach an agreement on pay raises. Negotiations resume in January. Florida Today. Hillsborough County teachers resume their public protests a day after being told by district officials that they will be given $1.8 million in bonuses to spread around 20,000 workers instead of pay raises. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Crime report refuted: Interim Duval County School Superintendent Patricia Willis says a federal report does not accurately describe the number of rapes in the district this year. The report list six rapes in the district between Jan. 1 and June 31. Willis says the report reflects incidents that were investigated and filed this year, but occurred over a three-year period. Willis says she wanted to correct misperceptions about the system, and emphasizes that “We are not taking this lightly. Any report of a rape is too many.” Florida Times-Union.

Complaint against district: A woman who accused Sarasota County School Superintendent Todd Bowden of sexual harassment in 2016 is now filing a discrimination complaint against the school district, alleging it retaliated against her for her accusation. Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz says after she accused Bowden, she was reassigned from her job as assistant director of the Suncoast Technical College, given bad evaluations and was told she should start looking for a job outside the district. Jimenez-Ruiz has been on a leave of absence since Oct. 27. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bradbury book stays: The Santa Rosa County School District will continue to use Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in the 8th grade curriculum. A parent had demanded the book be removed because of its use of profanity and mentions of sex, drugs, suicide, murder and abortion. A committee reviewing the complaint decided that the book, which is a cautionary tale against censorship, was an appropriate option for students. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Superintendent’s evaluation: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa receives perfect scores from three of the seven members of the school board on his annual evaluation and near perfect scores from two others. The other two members gave Avossa a rating of “effective.” He’s expected to get a raise, though the amount has not been set. Avossa makes $325,000 a year, third-most among the state’s superintendents. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Child abuse hearing: Arden Farley, an investigator for the Okaloosa County School District, unsuccessfully appeals his suspension over his role in reporting a complaint of child abuse against a teacher. Farley, who has been criminally charged with failure to report suspected child abuse, says he’s being made a scapegoat because his bosses, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and assistant superintendent Stacie Smith, didn’t report his findings in a timely manner. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Block scheduling ending: The Citrus County School District will end block scheduling next year. All three county high schools will move to the seven-period day. The district says the change will require fewer teachers and will help students with their end-of-the-year testing. Citrus County Chronicle.

School start times: The Broward County School Board approves the calendar for the 2018-2019 school year. Schools will open Wednesday, Aug. 15, and close Tuesday, June 4, 2019. The start date is six days earlier than this year’s. The calendar also has five possible hurricane makeup days. Sun-Sentinel. WTVJ. School start times could become an issue in the 2018 campaign for Pinellas County School Board seats. Several candidates support later starting times for high schools. School officials are wary of the financial implications of switching times, but say a task force is looking into the possibility. Tampa Bay Times.

Social media tracking: Palm Beach County school officials are using social media tracking software to help monitor student posts on Instagram, Snapchat and other sites. SnapTrends, which the district spent $20,000 for in 2015, scans certain words and phrases to flag potentially dangerous or criminal activity. It can read, interpret and categorize millions of posts in minutes. WPEC.

Communication survey: The Pinellas County School District is hiring a company to survey more than 1,000 families about their local schools and to find ways to better communicate. The $18,400 survey, which will be conducted mostly by students from the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Laboratory, will focus on the factors driving school choice, and how families get the information to make school decisions. Gradebook.

Charter schools: Charter Schools USA has plans to open its sixth school in Hillsborough County next year. The Creekside Charter Academy is scheduled to open in Riverview with as many as 745 students. Charter Schools USA is a for-profit company with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation concerns: Some Hillsborough County parents express concerns about the company that the district has hired to transport students who attend schools outside their zones. Most of the those transported are special education students. The drivers for the company are vetted according to the law, but some parents say they aren’t fingerprinted. Parents also complain that the drivers often show up late, and many speak little English. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent honored: Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene is named the outstanding superintendent in the state for communications, awarded by the Sunshine State School Public Relations Association. WWSB.

Education and partisanship: School choice advocates says increasing political partisanship is hurting efforts to expand options for students. At the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, “Education should not be a partisan issue. We need to have broader coalitions, broad left, right coalitions and that’s been tattered. … There is strong support for vouchers and charter schools across the country and we need to take advantage of that.” redefinED.

Educator profiles: Here’s a profile of Lee Hansen, who was appointed to the Escambia County School Board last week by Gov. Rick Scott. She replaces Linda Moultrie, who resigned. Pensacola News Journal. And here’s a profile of John Kirtley, the Tampa venture capitalist who has been a champion for school choice since starting the state tax credit scholarship for low-income students to attend private schools. In 2001 Kirtley founded Step Up For Students, which helps administer two state scholarship programs and hosts this blog. Orlando Sentinel.

Personnel moves: Sarasota Riverview High School principal Paul Burns is resigning to take a job as deputy chancellor for educator quality with the Florida Department of Education. Assistant principal Kathy Wilks will become acting principal. WWSB. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Krissy Perkins is named principal at Anthony Elementary School in Hillsborough County. Gradebook.

Principal suspended: The principal at Anthony Elementary School in Marion County was suspended a month ago pending the results of a district investigation. School officials would say only that Lisa Coy is being investigated for a “judgment call” she made. Ocala Star-Banner.

Student collapses, dies: A female student collapses and dies during basketball tryouts at Murray Middle School in St. Augustine. St. Augustine RecordFlorida Times-Union. WJAX.

Teacher fired: A Hollywood Hills High teacher and soccer coach is fired after he’s accused of having a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old student. Dirk Hilyard, 53, was a language arts teacher. He denies the allegations and says he’ll appeal the Broward County School Board’s decision. Sun-Sentinel.

Bus driver arrested: An Alachua County school bus driver is arrested and accused of throwing a 12-year-old boy off a bus and driving away. Tervin Boneta-Montalvo, 65, is charged with child abuse without great bodily harm. The ejection happened after the driver ordered the boy to sit in the back. He grabbed the boy’s arm and shoved him out the door. The boy fell down the steps and off the bus, and the bus drove away. Gainesville Sun.

Gun on a bus: An unloaded handgun is found in a 7-year-old Maude Saunders Elementary School student’s bag during a school bus ride. School officials don’t believe the child had any malicious intent, and any punishment will be handed out by the school district. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: When it comes to the banning books crusade, Florida legislators don’t need to read any books on hypocrisy. They have that art mastered. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Florida schools rank 46th in the nation in performance, according to U.S. World News and Report. Why should we should further drain public education resources and channel them to already wealthy and increasingly divisive religious institutions? Jiri Hulcr, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Celebrity chef Chris Valdes returns to his alma mater, Felix Varela High School in Miami, as principal of the day to share his favorite recipes and motivate students. Miami Herald. Share tables have become a hit during lunchtime at several Bay County schools. The share table concept allows students to place items they don’t want at the end of a lunch table, where they’re available to any other student. The program cuts down on food waste and makes extra food available to students who need it. Panama City News Herald.