Florida schools roundup: A win for transgender students, budgets and more

Bathroom rights upheld: A federal judge rules that transgender student Drew Adams may use the boys bathrooms at Nease High School this year. U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan wrote that Adams “poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students. Rather, Drew Adams is just like every other student at Nease High School, a teenager coming of age in a complicated, uncertain and changing world. When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy.” Officials at the St. Johns County school had ordered Adams, 18, to use gender-neutral bathrooms, prompting the discriination suit against the district. Florida Times-Union. St. Augustine Record. WJAX. WJXT.

Teacher pay: An analysis of Palm Beach County School District pay records shows that the district is paying teachers with 20 years of experience $3,000 a year less in 2018 than it did in 2008. The typical 30-year teacher is earning $2,100 less, and a typical 15-year teacher is making $1,000 less. It’s happened because teacher pay was frozen during the recession, salary schedules were abandoned, and the district then shifted more money toward starting pay and younger teachers. Palm Beach Post.

Tight budgets: It’s school budget season, and districts are struggling to make ends meet with the funding they’re receiving from the state. Officials are trying to slash costs in ways that will not violate the state’s class-size amendment and least affect students, and in some cases are dipping in to reserves to close deficits. “We really try to hold schools harmless and keep them out of the fray when it comes to budget reductions,” says Pasco County assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley. Tampa Bay Times. The Marion County School District needs at least $422 million for building and renovation projects over the next five years but will receive only $60.5 million. “In order to get by, we have to piecemeal many projects,” says Robert Knight, the district’s supervisor of facilities. “There is not enough money for everything.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Dual enrollment classes: Private school operators say a new state law that was intended to give their students greater access to college courses seems to be having the opposite effect. In the absence of rules specifying who would pay for the dual-enrollment, many colleges are asking private schools to pay for courses that students had previously gotten for free. Tampa Catholic High School students, for example, have long taken courses from Hillsborough Community College for free. Starting in 2019, those same courses will cost Tampa Catholic $40,000. “Absorbing that cost on our end is not an option,” says principal Robert Lees. Legislators say they may revisit the legislation in the 2019 session to specify who is responsible for dual enrollment payments. redefinED.

Grateful donor: A woman who credits four Bishop Moore Catholic High School students with saving her life in 2017 expresses her gratitude with a $44,000 donation to the school in the names of those students. Sarah Gentry was struck and pinned under a truck when Andrew and Tripp Cannon, Mario Hernandez and Thomas Connors jumped into action to lift the truck and free her. Gentry had several broken bones. “I just recognize how different everything could have been,” she says. “The fact that I have all these moments with my kids and my family — there’s not enough money to put a price on that.” The donation will be used to build a classroom in the new athletics building, the Moore Center for Excellence. “I’m just thankful we had the opportunity to be there that night and help her,” says Andrew Cannon. WESH. Orlando Sentinel.

School security: U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, files legislation that would provide $225 million to help school districts with more than 65,000 students pay for school resource officers. If the bill passes, at least 12 Florida districts would be eligible to receive extra funding. Gradebook. Thirty new school safety officers will be in place when schools open in August in Clay County, says Superintendent Addison Davis. WJXT.

Confession must be released: A judge rules that the confession of alleged Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz must be released to the public. Another judge ruled that a consultant’s report on Cruz’s time spent in Broward schools may also be released. The rulings come a day after a judge decided that surveillance videos showing the law enforcement response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School must be released. Cruz’s attorneys opposed the disclosure of all the materials, saying they would damage their defense. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press.

Teachers needed: The Lee County School District is still looking for about 50 teachers, but school officials say the situation would be worse if they didn’t have a new program to help teachers get recertified. “I think as a result of that focused support it allowed teachers to … pass their tests and get certified,” says Angela Pruitt, the school district’s chief human resources officer. “This is the first year, and it has already been phenomenal. We are excited about it.” Fort Myers News-Press. The Bay County School District is also looking for 50 teachers. “For the past few years, there have always been vacancies going into the new school year, but we are probably seeing an uptick,” says Shirley Baker, the district’s executive director of human resources. Panama City News Herald.

Crowded schools: Changing demographics are cited as the reason why schools in Boca Ration are crowded, many beyond their intended capacity. Palm Beach County School Board member Frank Barbieri says 90 percent of the new students are coming from established neighborhoods instead of new development. He thinks as older residents downsize, the homes are turning over to young families with children who are drawn to the city’s schools. “There’s a reputation for the Boca schools, they’re (mostly) A-rated,” says Barbieri. “So young families that want to find a good school for their children look in Boca.” Palm Beach Post. The opening of two new schools next month will allow the St. Johns County School District to eliminate 26 portable classrooms. But 354 remain, as the district’s growth of 1,400 to 1,800 students a year is outpacing construction of new schools. St. Augustine Record.

Grade-changing: A Seminole Ridge High School assistant principal changed the grades of 40 students on credit recovery courses in 2017, according to a Palm Beach County School District investigation. Randy Burden’s actions at the Loxahatchee school were not criminal, investigators say, but have been turned over to the district’s Office of Professional Standards. Palm Beach Post.

Charter school turmoil: Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells resigns from the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school’s board of directors after principal Eddie Hundley defended his actions in recommending a teacher to the Sarasota County School District even as the teacher was being investigated for sexual misconduct. Hundley was reprimanded for his actions by former Superintendent Diana Greene, but now says he was a scapegoat. Wells says his presence on the board was becoming a distraction. Bradenton Herald.

Notable deaths: Scott Guisbert, a longtime science teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Brevard County, dies at the age of 51 of pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed in April. Guisbert was well-known for using whatever means necessary to teach his students, including singing, smashing beakers and blowing up things. Florida Today.

School grade questions: Twenty years after the state began issuing grades to schools and districts, many still question whether the grades are an accurate reflection of the quality of the school. Standardized tests and learning gains heavily influence school grades, and schools that receive A’s still have many low-achieving students. The lesson in this, says Christy Hovanetz, a senior policy fellow for the nonprofit foundation ExcelinEd, is that “parents shouldn’t be looking exclusively at a school grade.” Florida Phoenix.

School improvement plan: Hendry County school officials are making turnaround plans for LaBelle Elementary School, which is one of 33 schools to receive an F grade from the state. The school got a C from the state in 2017, and now has one year to improve to a C before the state requires some corrective action. Caloosa Belle.

Education podcast: Erika Donalds, a member of the Constitution Revision Commission and the Collier County School Board, talks about why she thinks critics are missing the point about Amendment 8, which would allow entities other than local school boards to authorize charter schools, set term limits for school board members and require civics education. Gradebook.

School board elections: Pasco County School Board debate local issues, but unite in their opposition to Amendment 8. Gradebook. Six candidates are in the race to succeed Rebecca Couch as the District 6 representative on the Duval County School Board. Couch is term-limited. Florida Times-Union. Sarasota County School Board candidates talk about improving state funding for education, securing schools and the new district police force at a forum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel moves: Eleven new principals have been appointed for Broward County schools. Sun-Sentinel. Here are the new principals for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Principal removed: The principal of Boynton Beach High School is reassigned as part of a school district investigation. Palm Beach County school officials would not detail what the investigation of Guarn Sims is about or what job he has been assigned to. Anthony Lockhart, a district administrator who was once principal of Atlantic High School, will take over at Boynton Beach High. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: The Florida experience in the expansion of school choice suggests that putting more emphasis on accountability through choice, rather than through regulations only, will get us down the reform road further and faster. Doug Tuthill, Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Note: Tuthill is president of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.).

Student enrichment: The student mentoring program Bigs in Blue is expanding from the Tampa Police Department to law enforcement agencies in St. Petersburg, Zephyrhills, Port Richey and Dade City. The program pairs police officers with students as a way to encourage positive contact with law enforcement. Tampa Bay Times.