Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 off ballot, funding for security and more

Amendment 8 off ballot: A judge’s decision that proposed constitutional Amendment 8 should be removed from the Nov. 6 ballot is upheld in a 4-3 vote by the Florida Supreme Court. A Leon County judge had ruled that the amendment is misleading and fails to inform voters of its “chief purpose and effect.” The amendment, put forward by the Constitution Revision Commission, would have created an entity other than local school boards that can approve charter and public schools, set term limits for school board members and required civics education in schools. The League of Women Voters challenged the constitutionality of the amendment, with president Patricia Brigham saying “the backers of this proposal on the CRC went to great lengths to hide the ball because they realized that Floridians would never knowingly forfeit their right to local control over their local public schools.” Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida PoliticsWashington Post. Watchdog.org.

Scott rejected again: Legislative leaders officially deny Gov. Rick Scott’s request to release $58 million from the armed school guardian fund to districts to help them pay for more security at schools. In a letter to the governor Friday, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said, “For the guardian program to truly be vetted and ultimately embraced, I believe the program should maintain its own funding rather than having its funds commingled with other funds available for school safety. I respectfully disagree with your statement that the $58 million in available funding will go to waste if the proposed budget amendment is not adopted.” Galvano did say he would be open to reviewing the program in the near future. Only $9 million of the $67 million set aside for guardians was claimed by districts, which preferred having school resource officers to arming school employees. Associated Press.

Tax hikes for education: Voters around the state are increasingly approving higher taxes to help pay for educational needs, from school security to infrastructure to higher teacher pay. Ten county school districts asked voters to boost taxes for schools on Aug. 28, and all 10 levies were approved. Some suggest the results are sending a message to legislators to increase funding for schools. But others argue that districts need to control their spending. “If school districts were better at spending, there would be less of a concern about the revenue side of things,” says Shawn Frost, outgoing chairman of the Indian River County School Board. Tampa Bay Times.

School enrollment: Previously explosive growth in south Florida public school districts has slowed significantly, according to school officials. In Broward County, 1,500 fewer students are attending K-12 schools, dropping the total to about 221,000. Palm Beach County reports a modest increase of 370 in traditional schools and 217 more in charter schools, taking the county total to about 172,000. “Parents are very fickle,” says Ralph Arza, an official for the Florida Charter School Alliance, a statewide advocacy group. “They want more choices, and that’s what you’ll continue to witness, fluctuation back and forth.” Sun-Sentinel.

Homeless students: A year after Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida with 100-mph winds, displacing at least 500 public school students in Collier County, dozens of those students are still homeless. Rural and poor areas outside of Naples, such as Everglades City and Immokalee, are especially hard-hit. Naples Daily News.

School security: A Broward County sheriff’s deputy who was caught sleeping on the job at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School about a month after the Feb. 14 massacre has been fired. Moises Carotti, a 40-year-old, 18-year veteran of the force, says he feels he was fired for political reasons. His union will appeal the punishment to an arbitration board. Meanwhile, a report faults two other deputies for the way they handled tips about accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz, but they will keep their jobs. Sun-Sentinel. An armed safety guardian at Kinnan Elementary School in Manatee County is fired a week after the disclosure that he shared controversial anti-government remarks on his Facebook page. John Cinque was still in the probationary period, and no reason was given for the dismissal. Bradenton Herald. The Sarasota County School District’s police department now has hired 17 of the 25 officers it needs to cover 23 elementary schools, and expects to have the rest hired by the end of October. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Several Hillsborough County parents concerned about school safety start the Coalition for School Safety Inc., a nonprofit that raises money for school safety equipment and better security measures in schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent’s report: The Duval County School District is just one percentage point away from earning an A grade from the state, Superintendent Diana Greene said in her first state of the schools address since starting the job July 1. She said the graduation rate is up, referrals are down and the district is closing the gap with other large districts. WJXT. WJAX.

Attacking absenteeism: The Lake County School District is working to reduce the rate of chronic absenteeism of students, which rose from about 10 percent during the 2012-2013 school year to 16 percent in 2017-2018. Any student who misses 10 percent of the school days, or about 18, is defined as chronically absent. “Missing 10 percent or more of school for any reason, that’s just two or three days a month, is a proven predictor of academic trouble and dropout rates,” says Superintendent Diane Kornegay. Daily Commercial.

More A/C problems: Officials at Westward Elementary School in West Palm Beach have struggled to keep the air conditioning system working for the past few weeks. Several times the system shut off at mid-day, creating uncomfortable days for students, teachers and staff. A replaced water pump improved conditions Friday, and district officials say the system is scheduled for an upgrade in a few months. Palm Beach Post.

Turnaround schools: Hawthorne Middle/High School gets a C grade from the state after initially being given an incomplete. The grade allows the school, which had gotten grades of D or F for the past six years, to remain open and under the control of the Alachua County School District instead of being closed, converted to a charter school or turned over to an outside management company. WCJB. The Pasco County School District switched Ridgewood High School to a technical high school, in part because officials wanted to avoid having the school fall under the state’s rigid requirements for persistently struggling schools. But last week state officials said Ridgewood got a C grade, after initially being issued an incomplete. Getting the C would have exempted it from the state’s turnaround rules. Gradebook.

Future schools: St. Johns County School Board member Beverly Slough says a new high school is likely to be built on a 43-acre property in the north side of the county, just a few miles from Nease High School. She says construction could begin as early as 2020, after the district pays off a $150 million loan that it took in 2005 to build five new schools. St. Augustine Record. Parkland city commissioners approve the city’s first charter school. Somerset Academy Parkland, which will begin as a K-8 school, plans to open in August 2019. WLRN.

Personnel moves: Anthony Francois, principal at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo for the past year, resigns during a Pinellas County School District investigation of unspecified accusations against him. Gradebook.

Notable deaths: Roy Chernock, a teacher and track coach at several Palm Beach County high schools from 1990 through 2016 after he retired as a Hall of Fame college coach, dies at the age of 90. Palm Beach Post.

Volunteer background checks: The cost of a background check for Polk County School District volunteers is rising from $25 to $40 on Nov. 1. School officials say the higher cost is needed to cover a national background check, Social Security number verification, address verification, multiple name/alias check and terror watch list check. Lakeland Ledger.

Teacher faces firing: Marion County school officials begin the process of firing Legacy Elementary School teacher Christine Maria Egitto after her arrest Aug. 15 on charges that she gave a stolen gun to a man who used it to fire a shot at a juvenile. Egitto, 57, is on administrative leave and banned from school property. Ocala Star-Banner.

Students arrested: A 17-year-old Mosley High School student is arrested and charged with sexual battery against another student on campus. Bay County sheriff’s deputies say the assault happened in a boys locker room while the suspect and the victim skipped class. Panama City News Herald. A 13-year-old Stuart Middle School student is arrested and accused of threatening a gun attack on his school via the social media app Snapchat. The boy says he was joking. TCPalm.

Guns at schools: A parent is arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, using or displaying a firearm during a felony, child neglect without great harm, battery on a law enforcement officer, open carrying a weapon, driving without a license and resisting an officer with violence while dropping a child off at Cape View Elementary School in Cape Canaveral. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: While lawmakers and the state Department of Education should, and can, be more responsive to the Polk County School District’s needs, ample evidence exists that purely spending more is not necessarily a guarantor of success. Our district, for instance, moved up a letter grade last school year to earn the first B grade in seven years, despite being in the same funding bind. Lakeland Ledger. Whether or not an appointed superintendent could succeed where the elected ones have not obviously is unknown. Yet, 99 percent of the nation’s school districts have appointed superintendents. Marion County should follow. Ocala Star-Banner. Lying about your address so you can attend a certain school is dishonest. It’s wrong. It has side effects that parents might not realize by crowding some schools and leaving others with unnecessarily high vacancy rates. And what kind of lesson does it teach the kids? Tallahassee Democrat. It’s a strong indication of just how misguided the school guardian program is when even cash-strapped school districts are saying no to millions in state funds. Tampa Bay Times. There is no question that Florida Virtual School is facing an internal crisis of management and culture, but given the school’s history it seems likely that it will persist. Cait Etherington, Elearninginside News. The Marion County School Board should consider the establishment of a full-time program of investigation to provide increased accountability, promote integrity and fiscal responsibility to prevent waste and fraud. Dr. Mike Gonzalez, Ocala Star-Banner.

Student enrichment: Jupiter High School receives a $310,000 donation from the Perry J. Cohen Foundation for the pond outside the Perry J. Cohen Wetlands Laboratory and outdoor classroom. Cohen and his friend Austin Stephanos disappeared after setting out in a boat from the Jupiter Inlet in 2015. Palm Beach Post. PGT Innovations and WorldVision, a Christian relief program, donate 250 supply-filled backpacks to students at East Elementary School in Punta Gorda. Charlotte Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff