Florida schools roundup: District force ripped, security, tax measures and more

District’s force blasted: A Palm Beach County grand jury looking into school security issues a report blasting the school district’s police department, calling it “understaffed, underfunded and underpaid” and saying it is misleading the public about how well it’s protecting schools. “If the Palm Beach County School Board and the [school district] do not want to adequately fund, hire, pay and equip the [school district police], they are in effect wasting our taxpayer money and could be putting our children’s lives in danger,” the grand jury concluded. If the district isn’t willing to spend the money necessary, the grand jury said, it should turn over the job to the sheriff’s office. School officials call the grand jury’s suggestion to fix the problems by using financial reserves or cutting other school programs “irresponsible.” Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

School security: South Florida schools districts are scrambling to hire police officers to comply with the state mandate of having an armed officer in all schools when they reopen this fall. Sun-Sentinel. Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and county commissioners criticize School Superintendent Todd Bowden for his handling of negotiations for school resource officers and for the district’s decision to create its own police force. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WTSP. About 180 people have applied to become armed guardians for the Volusia County School District. Sheriff’s officials say about 130 met the minimum requirements and will be interviewed. As many as 52 could be hired to guard elementary and charter schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Orlando Sentinel. Estero city officials say protecting schools should be the responsibility of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, not the city. WFTX. The St. Johns County School District and county agree to a deal to have the sheriff hire 16 youth resource deputies to help guard schools. The district will contribute $1.4 million and the county $1 million. St. Augustine Record.

Tax hike vote delayed: The Palm Beach County School Board is delaying a decision on whether to ask voters to approve an increase in property taxes so the district can give teachers raises and pay for school security and mental health services. The one-month delay was prompted by a threat from charter school operators, who say they are entitled to a share of the $800 million that would be generated by the tax over four years and might sue if they don’t get it. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Lake County commissioners decide against asking voters to approve an increase in the gas tax, choosing instead to move forward with a proposal that would increase property taxes to help pay for school security. Orlando Sentinel.

Budget problems: Budget analysts project a deficit of about $1 million in the Pasco County School District for the next year, with more than half of it coming from the state mandate to put an armed officer into all schools. Hiring, training and outfitting 53 school safety guards and a director is expected to cost about $670,000 more than the district is getting from the state, and other expenses will add another $500,000 to the deficit. Tampa Bay Times.

Longer school day: High school students in Martin County will be in class 40 more minutes a day under a new schedule approved by the school board to ease teacher workloads and increase instructional time. High schools will start at 8:20 a.m. every day instead of 8:45, and end at 3 p.m. instead of 2:45. The first two periods will be 100 minutes long, with alternating courses, followed by three 50-minutes classes students have daily. TCPalm.

Gates experiment report: A study by the RAND Corp. concludes that the multiyear, $575 million Gates Foundation experiment to improve teacher effectiveness in order to get better student performance failed to achieve its goals. The Hillsborough County School District was one of three U.S. districts that participated in the experiment. The 74. Chalkbeat.

Superintendent selection: Monday, Hernando County School Board members will begin discussing how they plan to replace fired Superintendent Lori Romano. The board will review the termination letter to Romano, and meet with the executive director of the Florida School Board Association to discuss its options for a replacement. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing results: Hernando County students made slight gains in Florida Standards Assessments and end-of-course exams this year. Tampa Bay Times. Wakulla County students beat the state average on 19 of the 21 FSA and end-of-course exams, and Wakulla High School’s juniors had the best U.S. history test scores in the state. Wakulla News. The rate of Franklin County 3rd-graders reading at grade level or above dropped from 52 percent last year to 44 percent this year. WOYS. Alachua County students improved in biology but declined in math. Gainesville Sun. Testing results are mixed for Gulf County students. Port St. Joe Star.

Board member criticized: Black community leaders are critical of Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend’s recent call for an review of the way the school district handled an investigation against Tenoroc High School principal Jason Looney. They say Townsend is being dictatorial, divisive and racist, and is undermining Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. Lakeland Ledger.

Notable deaths: Andre Stafford, a popular assistant football coach and dean of discipline at Carol City High School in Miami-Dade County, has died after a series of strokes. He was 43. Miami Herald.

School signs coming down: The Leon County School District is removing school signs that warn drivers that vehicles on school grounds are subject to search “with or without cause.” A resident questioned the constitutionality of the signs, and school officials agreed the signs are not accurate. Tallahassee Democrat.

Game sales halted: Purchases of the controversial online game Active Shooter are temporarily disabled after PayPal says it will no longer process payments for the game, in which players can take the role of school shooters or first responders. Acid Software, the marketer of the game, says it’s working with PayPal to resolve the issues. Associated Press.

School resource officer fired: A school resource officer at Talbot Elementary School is fired by the Gainesville Police Department after posting what the department called “offensive, insulting, and derogatory statements” about former President Obama and gay people on Facebook. Jason King is appealing the decision, and a hearing on the firing is Monday. Gainesville Sun.

Teacher loses license: A former Choctawhatchee High School drama teacher has lost his teaching certificate for at least 10 years for encouraging and allowing his students to perform sexually suggestive skits in class and during competitions. Stephen Henry Rushing, 66, retired in April 2016, about a week before a district investigation into his activities was released. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: County commissioners finally accept their responsibility of helping meet the state’s mandate for putting an armed officer in all schools. Citrus County Chronicle. Making the case for many students to begin taking advanced math courses such as algebra 1 in middle school. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: About 100 Brevard County high school students will perform two Broadway-style musicals through a summer theater program that was resurrected after an eight-year absence. Florida Today. Siblings David and Lauren Hogg, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, write a book, #NeverAgain, about the school shooting and their subsequent roles in the gun control movement. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. The Nease High School NJROTC team is selected as the fifth-best unit in the nation by the Naval Service Training Command. Ponte Vedra Recorder.