Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7055 debate, CRC, replacing Avossa and more

H.B. 7055 debate: The Florida House begins debate this afternoon on its omnibus education bill, H.B. 7055. The nearly 200-page bill incorporates multiple topics, from the creation of scholarships for bullied students to the imposition of requirements on teachers unions, and is such a priority for House leaders that they have tied the per-student funding language for all public schools to the passage of this bill or similar legislation. Gradebook.

CRC hearing: Several speakers criticize a proposal to provide state funding for religious schools at the first Constitution Revision Commission public hearing in Davie. “This will resegregate our schools, not by race but by religion,” said Daniel Cook, a board member of the Broward chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Among the other topics that got attention from the hundreds of people in attendance were proposed abortion restrictions and amendments on greyhound racing and privacy rights. The next hearing is Feb. 19 in Melbourne, followed by Feb. 20 in Jacksonville, Feb. 27 in Pensacola and March 13 in St. Petersburg. Sun-Sentinel.

Replacing Avossa: Several Palm Beach County School Board members say they’ll look within the district to replace Superintendent Robert Avossa, who is resigning June 12 to work for a Palm Beach Gardens publishing company. Among the internal candidates: David Christiansen, deputy superintendent and chief of schools; Keith Oswald, chief academic officer; and Donald Fennoy, chief operating officer. And four other candidates for the job when Avossa was hired in 2015 still work for the district and could be considered. The board is expected to discuss the search at its meeting Feb. 14. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Still absent: The Seminole County School Board member who hasn’t been to a meeting or done any board work since Feb. 28, 2017, missed a pair of meetings Tuesday despite agreeing to call in to participate. Board members directed Superintendent Walt Griffin to send yet another letter to Jeffrey Bauer asking him  “whether your resignation is the right thing to do for all involved.” Bauer, 49, had a stroke in 2016 and reportedly has had other health issues since then. Orlando Sentinel.

Contract approved: The Duval County School Board approves a three-year contract agreement between the district and its teachers and other covered workers that includes step raises and performance pay increases for the current and next school years. The changes will cost the district about $14 million. Florida Times-Union.

Charters, capital funding: Some Florida charter schools are being warned not to spend the capital money they are now supposed to get from districts while courts consider three lawsuits against the law that requires the payments. And some charter schools have yet to receive any money from districts. redefinED.

Sales tax hike on ballot: Lee County commissioners agree to place a half-cent sales tax boost for school construction on the ballot in November. If approved, the increase in the sales tax from 6 cents to 6.5 cents would generate up to $58 million a year for 10 years. School officials say without the tax, the district faces a projected revenue shortfall of $478 million over the next five years. Fort Myers News-Press.

Art requirement ends: The Lake County School Board votes to end the requirement to provide art education in elementary schools. The board rejected Superintendent Diane Kornegay’s plan to add art, music and PE to every lower-level school. The PE and music requirements remain, but each school will have the option of offering traditional art or a STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and math) program. Daily Commercial.

Charter ending contract: An online charter school in Pasco County is terminating its contract with the district at the end of the school year. Florida Cyber Charter Academy says it will instead focus its online efforts at its Osceola and Duval operations, and its 348 students can remain enrolled by filling out paperwork. Last October the district put Florida Cyber on notice that without academic improvement, its charter could be terminated. Gradebook.

Charter application: CareerSource Pinellas, under investigation for allegedly inflating job placement figures, files an application to start a charter school in St. Petersburg. The Science Center Charter School of Pinellas would teach construction trades and basic courses to about 50 low-income high school students between the ages of 14 and 21. The contact person for the application is president and CEO Edward Peachey, who was suspended last week from the regional jobs center. Tampa Bay Times.

Rezoning revisions: The Pasco County School District intends to revise the rezoning of school boundaries that were voided by a court, and in time for the 2018-2019 school year, says Superintendent Kurt Browning. He says his staff is creating a new map by Feb. 23, and public hearings on the recommendation begin March 12. Gradebook.

Keys graduation rates: Graduation rates for Monroe County schools are up from last year, but area still below the state average. Superintendent Mark Porter says the rate was at 79 percent for the 2016-2017 school year, up from 77.9 the previous year but below the state average of 82 percent. Minority students continue to lag behind whites in graduation rates. Whites posted a rate of 86.5 percent, compared with 73 percent of black students and 68 percent of Hispanics. Keynoter.

Escaping poverty: The Duval County School District and several public agencies meet to discuss ways to break the cycle of poverty for Jacksonville children. Statistics show that a child born into the bottom 20 percent of family incomes has about a 5 percent chance of ever getting to the top 20 percent, but a 35 percent chance of staying in the bottom group. Florida Times-Union.

Early education: Thirty-two Hillsborough County schools will offer free preschool to 400 low-income children as a way to better prepare them for kindergarten. The program, Bold Beginnings, begins in August. Gradebook.

Hurricane makeup days: The Collier County School Board approves an increase in hurricane makeup days from one to two for the 2019-2020 school year. They will be Monday, Nov. 25, and Tuesday, Nov. 26. That school year would begin Aug. 13, and would include a day off Sept. 30 to observe Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Naples Daily News.

Personnel moves: After being criticized by the State Board of Education, Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins is replacing principals at four D-rated elementary schools. The new principals at Dover, Mango, Palm River and Pizzo elementary schools are all being transferred from the central office and the jobs they’re leaving won’t be filled. The outgoing principals will stay at the schools through the end of the school year. Tampa Bay Times. Fernandina Beach High School principal Spencer Lodree resigns, effective immediately. He says his decision was made “due to family and personal reasons.” Assistant principal Chris Webber is the acting principal for the Nassau County school. Fernandina Beach News-Leader.

Board headquarters: The Martin County School Board will consider a proposal to build a new headquarters for the district behind or on top of the old Stuart High School. The board has considered several proposals in the past six months on where to locate the $10 million, 50,000-square-foot building. TCPalm.

Guns at school: A gun is found in a student’s backpack at Cholee Lake Elementary School in Greenacres, according to Palm Beach County school officials. It’s the fourth gun-related incident in county schools in the past month. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher suspended: A Jacksonville elementary school teacher is suspended after he’s accused of abusing students. Michael Slowik, a kindergarten teacher at Rufus E. Payne Elementary School, is accused of pushing one student to the floor and grabbing another student’s arm. WJAX.

Official pleads not guilty: Former Okaloosa County School District assistant superintendent Stacie Smith pleads not guilty to a charge of failure to report child abuse. She resigned Jan. 31. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: Musings about the early drafts of the resignation letter from Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. As local sales tax proposals advance to November ballots in Collier and Lee counties, a recurring theme is that the projects and initiatives the sales tax would pay for won’t go away whether the referendums pass or fail. Naples Daily News. Let us as a community begin to tell our children that school is a place where we find ourselves and each other. That learning for the sake of learning is a worthwhile enterprise. Sarasota teacher of the year Es Swihart, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Three more Florida students earn “top in the world” scores on Cambridge International examinations. Kayla Barrera of Gainesville High was cited for her work in global perspectives and research, Andrew Kennedy of Cypress Bay High School in Broward County for thinking skills, and Lingwei Kong, Pembroke Pines Charter Schools at Academic Village for marine science. They and two Sarasota students are the only five winners in the state. PR NewsWire. Beatrice “Trixie” Meckley, a 6th-grader at DeLand Middle School, wins the Volusia County spelling bee for the second straight year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Sarasota County middle-schoolers are increasingly using technology in the classroom with the TechActive approach, where they sit at pods instead of desks, work in teams and use computers for research. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.