Florida schools roundup: Cold again closing schools, pensions and more

Cold closing schools: A cold front is expected to bring freezing temperatures and icy conditions into north Florida today. The Walton, Escambia, Jackson, Holmes, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa school districts have closed all schools, and Bay County is limiting after-school activities. Northwest Florida Daily News. WMBB. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Destin Log. Panama City News Herald. The Leon County School District won’t be closing schools because of the weather today. Earlier this month the district closed for two days when cold weather, snow and ice moved into the area. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Pension payments: Florida school districts will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million into the state pension fund this year, if a bill before the Legislature is approved. The state is forecasting a lower rate of return on the $160 billion pension fund, which would require school districts, colleges, universities, county governments and state agencies to pay a collective $178.5 million to ensure that there’s enough money to pay retirement benefits. News Service of Florida.

Computer coding bill: A bill promoting computer coding in schools, by allowing students to use it to satisfy foreign language requirements, is amended to include a requirement that a set percentage of schools in each district offer computer science courses, and providing financial incentives for teachers to become certified in the field. The amended bill is approved by the Senate Education Committee and now moves to the appropriations committee. Gradebook.

Employees honored: Bonnie Bresnyan, who teaches trainable mentally handicapped students at Lewis Elementary School in Temple Terrace, is named the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. Christine Campbell, a school social worker at Van Buren Middle, is named the Ida S. Baker Diversity educator of the year, and the support employee of the year is Miriam Velez-Hernandez, a classroom aide at Dover Elementary. Tampa Bay Times. Four finalists are chosen for the Miami-Dade County teacher of the year award. They are: Nadia German, 5th grade at Ojus Elementary; Rodolfo Diaz, TV production at South Miami Senior High; Laura Ortiz, AP European history, honors world history and AP human geography to 9th-, 10th- and 11th-graders at Robert Morgan Educational Center; and Alfreida Joseph-Goins, science teacher at the Dorothy M. Wallace C.O.P.E. Center. Miami Herald. Five finalists are chosen for the Clay County teacher and support employee of the year award. The teacher finalists are: Denise Carmichael, 3rd-grade at Coppergate Elementary; Jason Poole, English and social science at Fleming Island High; Scott Boyer, band director at Lakeside Junior High; Melissa Parker, math and science at Middleburg Elementary; and Monica Claridge, physical education at S. Bryan Jennings Elementary. Florida Times-Union. Debra Canning, an after-school coordinator for struggling schools, is named the Pinellas County School District’s support employee of the year. Gradebook.

State ranking: Florida gets a C and ranks 30th among the states, and the nation gets a C, in the Quality Counts 2018 report card issued by the Education Week Research Center. Florida scored 72.5 points, 2 under the national average. The state gets a C in chance for success and K-12 achievement and a D+ in school finances. Education Week.

Constitutional proposals: The Constitution Revision Commission’s Education Committee will take up nine proposals at its meeting Friday. Among them: ending pay for school board members, ending the constitutional ban on using state tax dollars for religious schools, and creating an authority other than local school boards to approve charter schools. Gradebook.

Contingency plans: State legislators are already working on contingency plans if any of the three lawsuits challenging the new state education law are successful. The challenges to the law center on increased funding for charter schools, and legislators say if any of the courts rule against the law, they’ll look for a remedy to maintain funding for charters. “We are looking at it and we are prepared to take steps to make sure we solve the issue once and for all,” says state Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. redefinED.

New school operators: The consultant firm Educational Solutions is tentatively selected by the Duval County School Board to try to turn around three struggling schools if those schools don’t receive at least C grades from the state this year. Lake Forest Elementary, Matthew Gilbert and Northwestern middle schools had persistently received grades of D, forcing the district to choose among closing the schools, handing them over to charter schools or hiring an outside group to run them. The cost will be $325,000 to $350,000 for each the first year, and $225,000 to $250,000 the second year. The board’s final vote is expected Feb. 6. Florida Times-Union.

School’s ultimatum: The Florida Department of Education tells Marion County school officials that Evergreen Elementary School in Ocala will not get another year to improve. If the school doesn’t receive a C grade from the state year, it will have to be closed, turned into a charter school or be turned over to an outside company to run it. The district is proposing the school be closed, a decision that has drawn some criticism from members of the community. Ocala Star-Banner.

Sales tax hike: A proposal to ask voters for a half-cent sales tax increase is favored by six of seven Lee County School Board members. A formal vote is Jan. 23. If the proposal is approved, the election could be held May 15 and if passed, would generate $55 to $58 million a year for 10 years. The money would be used for new schools, maintenance, buses, technology and more. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher donates kidney: A Palm Beach County teacher donates a kidney to help save the life of the mother of one of her 4th-graders. Donna Hoagland, a teacher at Marsh Pointe Elementary School, donated a kidney to Anahita Volk after she learned about her illness from her son, Troy Volk. Palm Beach Post.

Pay declaration disputed: The Sarasota County teachers union is disputing the school district’s contention that the teachers are “the best paid teachers in Florida.” Teachers were greeted with a sign making that statement at the district administration building as they were picketing the offices last week to show their unhappiness with the progress of contract negotiations. According to the Florida Department of Education, Sarasota teachers’ average salary of $54,524.52 is the second-highest paid in the state behind Monroe County. In median salary, Sarasota ranks fifth in the state. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Substitute teachers: Hillsborough County School Board member Lynn Gray says she is troubled by reports of substitute teachers mistreating children and sleeping in class, and is urging the district to reconsider how it hires substitutes. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher shortages: A shortage of teachers is a national trend that hasn’t made its way to St. Johns County, at least not yet. School officials attribute it to the reputation of the district and the programs offered at schools. St. Augustine Record.

Graduation rates: The graduation rate in Washington County was up 1.5 percentage points in 2017 over 2016, to 77.8 percent, while the rate dropped 3.7 percentage points in Holmes County, to 68.7 percent. Holmes County Times Advertiser. A school-by-school look at graduation rates in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. Gradebook.

School repair: The Pinellas County School District and two other agencies are collaborating on a $1.5 million project to fix erosion problems along Allen’s Creek. Officials say the erosion is so bad that it’s threatening the structural integrity of Plumb Elementary School. The fix is expected to take about a year. WFTS.

State board appointees: Joe York, president of AT&T Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Florida Board of Education. He succeeds Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey for a term that began last Friday and continues through Dec. 31, 2020. Scott also reappointed Marva Johnson and Andy Tuck to the board. Gradebook.

School rezonings: The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to approve a rezoning plan that will place 700 students from the soon-to-close Odyssey Middle School in Boynton Beach into five other schools for the 2018-2019 school year. Sun-Sentinel. A parents group that unsuccessfully tried to influence the Pasco County School District’s decision on rezoning in 2016 is again urging the district to consider its proposal for school boundaries on the west side of the county. The district’s rezoning decision was recently rescinded by a judge who said the committee making the recommendation didn’t fully adhere to the state’s open meetings law. Gradebook.

New school delayed: The construction of a new K-8 school in Jackson County is delayed as the district waits for money from the state. Jackson County Floridan.

Threats at schools: A student at Ruckel Middle School in Niceville is arrested and accused of posting a threat against the school on social media, according to Okaloosa County deputies. WALA. First-graders at Plew Elementary School in Okaloosa County find a loaded gun on campus. Deputies believe the gun was dropped by a suspect who jumped a school fence while fleeing from the Niceville police. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Ex-adviser sentenced: A former  adviser and assistant coach at T. Dewitt Taylor Middle-High is sentenced to 15 years prison after pleading guilty to committing sex acts with two teenagers. Keyunta E. Murphy, 25, was arrested April 18 and accused of performing a sexual act on a student. Another student then came forward with a similar story. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School vandalized: Vandals damage 18 classrooms at Horizon Elementary School in Port Orange, displacing 360 of the school’s 800 students until repairs can be made. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s version of “accountability” is testing the pants off public-school students and then encouraging parents to flee to private schools to escape the very testing nonsense legislators demanded in the first place. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The Lee County Commission should do what the school district wants and set up a special election in May to boost the sales tax a half-cent for schools. It will be up to the district to prove to voters the necessity of the sales tax through open meetings and neighborhood town halls. Fort Myers News-Press. The Hillsborough County School District should send the agency that supplies its substitute teachers a clear message and follow it up with rigorous internal auditing to ensure that substitutes have the right credentials, training and character to be in the classroom. Tampa Bay Times. The Miami-Dade County School District must ensure that teachers are fairly compensated and valued. Mari Tere Rojas, Miami Herald. Why won’t the Duval County School Board consider selling its riverfront administration building? Florida Times-Union. Educators must unite to support the Dreamers. Henry Miller, Gainesville Sun. Like Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, I’m worried about the shortage of computer science teachers. But I’m also worried about the shortage of teachers in math, English, Spanish and science. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Students at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School are adapting toys to make it easier for disabled children to use them. Gainesville Sun. The FoolProof Foundation, an organization that was founded in Brevard County, is helping make financial literacy courses available to students around the United States. Florida Today. About 1,500 Duval County 5th-graders get a history lesson from Alexander Hamilton in a show put on by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Florida Times-Union.