Florida schools roundup: Response to suit, closed meetings, security and more

State responds in suit: Lawyers for the state are urging the Florida Supreme Court to dismiss a case challenging the constitutionality of the way Florida funds its education system instead of sending it back to a lower court for further review. Last December, an appeals court decided that a trial court correctly ruled that the state constitution’s requirement for a “high quality” and “efficient” public school system was political, and not measurable. In April, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case. Gradebook.

Closed board meetings: Since last year, the Lee County School Board has been holding meetings the public is not invited to after its regular board meetings. The meetings are considered critique sessions, and board attorney Keith Martin says members carefully avoid discussing any issues that could later be voted on. “There have been a couple of occasions where they have gotten close to that type of issue, and I have had to say, ‘No, Sunshine Law. Get back to the proper discussions,’ ” says Martin. Barbara Petersen, president of the nonprofit Florida First Amendment Foundation, says these meetings might not technically violate state law, but they could cause a public perception problem. Fort Myers News-Press.

School security: After a preliminary security assessment, the Broward County School District says it will upgrade surveillance cameras and intercom systems, and add buzzers to school front offices. The district is paying Safe Havens Inc. of Georgia $900,000 for the security review. The final report is due by Oct. 5. Sun-Sentinel. Orange County school officials say they will spend about $11.6 million this year on improved school security. Orlando Sentinel. School officials in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties continue to struggle to decide how to pay for school security, and who should contribute. TCPalm. A Georgia-based company, U.S. Security Associates, will provide 28 armed guards to help St. Johns County deputies guard the county’s schools. St. Augustine Record. Daniel Hahn, who formerly worked with Santa Rosa County Emergency Management, begins work as the school district’s director of school safety. Pensacola News Journal. Francesco Frangella, a former New York City Police Department sergeant and special investigator for the New Jersey Department of Education, is hired as the chief of security for the Martin County School District. TCPalm.

Teacher pay, openings: The Manatee County School District has openings for 118 K-12 teachers, and is counting on the new, significantly higher starting pay to quickly reduce that number. Manatee voters approved a 1-mill increase in property taxes in the spring, and the district is now offering a starting salary of about $44,400, which is higher than the nearby counties of Sarasota, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco. The district also needs 90 more paraprofessionals and 69 support personnel. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Firing clause reconsidered: The Sarasota County School Board will consider a proposal to remove language from Superintendent Todd Bowden’s contract that allows him to be fired without cause. Board member Caroline Zucker proposed the change because she thinks some people involved with the district, including the teachers union and board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson, want Bowden fired. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Proposed district policies: Leon County School Board member Alva Striplin is proposing a policy that would clarify the rules about relationships between supervisors and the people who work for them. Relationships between administrators and teachers are not prohibited by school policy, but are considered a breach of the district’s code of ethics. Tallahassee Democrat. Pasco County school officials are recommending the school board approve a policy on the use of social media by district employees. The district issued guidelines in 2013, but officials want to make it more formal. Gradebook.

Charter’s corrective plan: The Volusia County School Board will vote this week on a plan to increase services for students with disabilities at the Ivy Hawn Charter School of the Arts in Lake Helen. School officials say the high-performing school isn’t fully complying with laws regarding students with disabilities. The plan includes expanding services for students with special needs, trying to recruit more students with disabilities, and fixing the school’s application form, which had asked would-be students and their parents whether they needed special services before they were accepted. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

New schools: Residents and officials in Gilchrist County are raising money to open a school for special-needs students. If they’re successful, they’ll open the ninth Esther’s School in Florida. It’s a private Christian school. WCJB. School officials are holding a community meeting to discuss plans for a new high school in south Hillsborough County. The school, which is expected to open in August 2020, would relieve overcrowding at East Bay, Lennard, Newsome and Durant high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

School marketing: Palm Terrace Elementary School in Daytona Beach is lobbying students to stick with it after the school received its third straight D grade from the state. That grade triggers the state-required process that allows students from persistently low-performing schools to transfer to another school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Personnel moves: Thirteen Palm Beach County public schools will have new principals next month, and four more positions have yet to be filled. Palm Beach Post.

School board elections: Candidates for the chairperson’s seat on the Orange County School Board talk about ways to improve school safety and boost teacher pay at a candidate forum. Orlando Sentinel. One of the candidates for the District 4 seat on the Hillsborough County School Board talks about the district’s budget, low-performing schools and the elimination of courtesy busing. Gradebook.

Incident investigated: Florida’s Department of Children and Families is investigating an incident sexual in nature that recently occurred between students at Chiles and Leon high schools. Chiles officials reported the incident, which allegedly involved a male Leon High student. Tallahassee Reports.

Opinions on schools: Alachua County School Board members made the right decision in compromising on the budget for deputies in schools, but Sheriff Sadie Darnell was wrong to squeeze them for every penny she could get. Gainesville Sun. By giving the Marion Military Academy yet another chance, a majority of the Marion County School Board is saying mediocrity in our schools is acceptable. Ocala Star-Banner. Members of the Palm Beach County School Board made a heartless decision to exclude charter schools from benefiting from a proposed education tax. LanaAnn Marsh, Palm Beach Post. By establishing a reading scholarship for public school students, Florida is once again demonstrating that the expansion of parent-driven educational options is not an either-or proposition, and that drawing battle lines between “public” and “private” makes no sense.  John Legg, Tampa Bay TimesHere’s how we have made Broward County schools safer. Superintendent Robert Runcie, Sun-Sentinel. There is no reason to amend Sarasota School Superintendent Todd Bowden’s contract in a way to make it harder to fire him if he loses the confidence of a majority of the school board. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Parents and students should have some input when a school district considers changing school start times. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: Six Broward County students — five of them from Parkland — are among 28 from around the country selected as a Giffords Courage Fellow. The fellowship was founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a 2011 shooting. Sun-Sentinel. William Maillis, an 11-year-old from Palm Harbor in Pinellas County, graduated last weekend from St. Petersburg College with an associate in arts degree. He graduated from a Pittsburgh high school at the age of 9. Tampa Bay Times. Experts offer tips on getting students ready to go back to school. Tampa Bay Times.