Florida schools roundup: Deadly school shooting, funding for schools and more

School shooting: A 19-year-old man who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland returned Wednesday to shoot and kill 17 people and wound 16 more in the worst school massacre in Florida’s history, according to Broward County deputies. The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, was arrested at a house near the school by deputies shortly after escaping by hiding among students running from the school. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Florida TodayOrlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Politico Florida. The 74. The shooting suspect had been flagged as a potential threat, and family members say he seemed troubled and depressed in recent years. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Associated Press. CNN. Students tell their stories of horror, and videos capture the scene. Sun-Sentinel. Stoneman football coach Aaron Feis is called a hero for stepping between the gunman and students. Miami Herald. The rifle used in the shooting, the AR-15, is “designed to kill multiple enemy combatants at once,” says a weapons expert. Miami Herald. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High will be closed today and tomorrow. Sun-Sentinel. There have already been at least six school shootings that have killed or injured U.S. students in 2018, and at least 17 other incidents involving a gun fired at or near U.S. schools. USA Today. Business Insider. Time. MSN. The 74. Fox News. CNBC. Political leaders express their anguish over the shootings but wonder if anything will change. Sun-Sentinel. How vulnerable are kids at school? USA Today.

School choice funding: A bill that would create a new funding source for private school choice scholarships is approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. The proposal would let businesses donate to a state to a scholarship funding organization and receive a full credit for sales taxes they collect. It’s projected that the measure could collect as much as $150 million a year. That money would help fund state-approved scholarship organizations such as Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and helps administer the Gardiner Scholarships for children with special needs and tax credit scholarships for low-income students. Both have waiting lists. The bill also creates tax holidays for certain back-to-school items and hurricane supplies. The total tax relief amount is almost $350 million. redefinED. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

School funding formula: The House Education PreK-12 Appropriations Committee approves a bill that calls for a study of the way state funding is distributed to school districts. Smaller and more rural districts around the state have complained for years that price-level index portion of the funding formula unfairly favors urban districts. The House has allocated $100,000 for the study. The Senate also passes its version of the school funding bill, which includes more money for school mental health services. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Politico Florida.

Schools of Hope: The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee approves revisions to the Schools of Hope legislation that would allow more district-run schools to be eligible for grants under the program. Other changes include an easing on requirements that almost every school be built to hurricane shelter standards, and on restrictions of how districts use federal Title 1 funding. The bill also includes an amendment that would retain public ownership of buildings used by charter schools if they close. redefinED. Gradebook.

Avossa replacement: Palm Beach County School Board members decide that Superintendent Robert Avossa’s replacement will be somebody who already works for the district. Those interested have until Friday to apply. Avossa resigned to take a job with an education publisher. His last day is June 12, and the board wants his replacement chosen before then. The board expects to offer a five-year contract with a salary in the $250,000-$300,000 range. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Educators honored: Six finalists are chosen for the Lake County School District’s rookie teacher of the year and for support employee of the year. Winners will be announced March 14. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel. Sonya Shepard is named 2017 school resource officer of the year by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department. She works at Destin Elementary School, and has been a school resource officer since 2013. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Security funding: Safe Schools, the state program that provides money to schools for police officers and security programs, has been cut from $75.6 million 10 years ago to $64.4 million this year. More than 80 percent of the money goes for police officer salaries. Educators have pressed for greater funding for years, with no success, and this year the Legislature is split this year on boosting spending. TCPalm.

Teachers cheating: More than 60 Hillsborough County teachers have been accused of cheating on exams for their English for Speakers of Other Languages course in the past few years. And of the 11 Hillsborough cases that came to the Education Practices Commission this month, 10 involved plagiarism. School officials say the numbers seem high because the district has a sophisticated method for detecting cheaters. Tampa Bay Times.

Neighborhood schools: A Pinellas County School District survey indicates that parents value strong academic performance in a school above all other factors. Charter school parents expressed the most satisfaction with their schools, but worried most about class sizes and academic performance. Private school parents say they are most worried about behavior, while many parents chose specialty programs over proximity to neighborhood schools as a deciding factor. Gradebook.

School construction: The Leon County School Board votes to move ahead with major renovations at Rickards High School and Fairview Middle School. The Florida Department of Education must still sign off on the Rickards construction. WTXL. Hillsborough County school officials say they are working to protect what’s left of Lee Elementary School in Tampa, which was gutted by a fire in September, until an insurance settlement can be reached and a decision can be made on what to do with the school’s remains. Neighborhood residents say the school is historic and needs to be rebuilt. School officials are wary of the costs in a tight budget era. Gradebook.

Contract agreement: The union representing Gulf County teachers has accepted the school district’s contract offer, which provides step increases of about 1 to 1.25 percent for most teachers, $500 bonuses for teachers at the top of the salary scale and an extra $50 a year toward health insurance premiums. Port St. Joe Star.

Report clears superintendent: A report by an outside investigator says a woman’s claim that Sarasota County School Superintendent Todd Bowden retaliated against her after she accused him of sexual harassment is unfounded. The investigator, Orlando-based labor lawyer Richard Blystone, was hired by the school board to look into the allegations made by Booker High School assistant principal Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Child abuse investigation: E-mails seem to suggest that Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson knew about a child abuse claim against a teacher the month before Jackson said she first became aware of an investigation into the incident. Northwest Florida Daily News. Okaloosa County School Board member Melissa Thrush is asking her colleagues to notify each other if they make a request to the board attorney regarding the grand jury investigation into a child abuse case and other district issues. And she is asking board attorney Jeff McInnis to notify the full board before acting on the behalf of any individual board member. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Whistleblower complaint: A request from a Lee County School Board member to investigate a whistleblower’s complaint about “inappropriate actions by district staff” is denied by the rest of the board because looking into it would take more than the 90 minutes the board set as a limit on using staff to research information for members. Fort Myers News-Press.

School board elections: Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board since 2014, says she will not for re-election so she can “focus on my family.” Naples Daily News. A campaign for the District 2 seat on the Orange County School Board turns bitter as two woman of Puerto Rican descent trade insults on Facebook. Jacqueline Centeno and Johana López are among six candidates for the seat. Orlando Sentinel.

School calendar: The Leon County School Board approves a calendar for the 2018-2019 school year. School starts Aug. 13 and ends May 31. The district had asked parents to vote on three options, and that one that received 55 percent of the votes was chosen. Tallahassee Democrat.

School finances: An audit of the Gulf County School District shows no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies, and notes that the district has corrected the problems found from last year’s audit. Port St. Joe Star.

Birthdays and brains: Florida children born in September score higher in testing than children born in other months, are more likely to go to a good college and less likely to end up in a juvenile detention center, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research of 1.2 million children enrolled in state schools. Experts say the distinction is likely related to September babies generally being the oldest kids in their grade and, therefore, more mature. Elite Daily.

6th-graders and sports: Plans are underway to permit 6th-graders to participate in middle school sports in Pasco County, starting in the fall. No new teams would be created, and school officials say there won’t be any added costs. Gradebook.

Charges against administrator: Kyle Ritsema, 35, an assistant principal at Cypress Creek Middle High School in Pasco County who was arrested this week by the U.S. Marshal’s Office, is facing child pornography charges. WFLA.

Principal put on leave: Marilyn Jackson-Rahming, the principal at Pineview Elementary School in Tallahassee since 1997, is placed on leave while the district investigates an accusation that involves school records. Tallahassee Democrat.

Ex-preschool teacher arrested: A former teacher at the Bright Horizons Children’s Centers in Orange County is arrested and accused of sexually abusing two boys at the center. Jayrico Jayrice Hamilton, 25, was fired last May. Orlando Sentinel.

No charges for drawing: A Mexico Beach man arrested after drawing a school shooting scene on his stepchild’s homework in December will not be charged, the Gulf County state attorney decides. State Attorney Glenn Hess wrote that the concerns of local officials and the violent images do not elevate the threat into a criminal action because there was no specific target. Port St. Joe Star.

Opinions on schools: If our action ends with prayer vigils and makeshift memorials and speeches and remembrances that fade over time, then we will have failed. We will have failed those who died on Valentine’s Day in Parkland and failed those sure to die in shootings to come. Sun-Sentinel. How long will our leaders, after offering up thoughts and prayers for the victims of Wednesday’s school shooting, continue to say, with their inaction, “Oh well?” Miami Herald. Thoughts and prayers won’t stop these school shootings. Palm Beach Post. I teach my children to seek and to find solutions to every problem, big and small. Mass shootings in our schools are a problem. I refuse to accept we are helpless. Hava Leipzig Holzhauer, Sun-SentinelIf we require the placement of “In God We Trust” on all public school buildings, students from families that don’t find any evidence for the existence of a God would see their family’s beliefs undermined every time they entered a school building. Joe Beck, TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Spruce Creek High School’s robotics team wins first place and the top prize of $20,000 in the Nationwide Ford STEAM High School Community Challenge. Daytona Beach News-Journal.