Florida schools roundup: Charter owner convicted, audit, growth and more

Charter owner convicted: A former charter school operator has been convicted of defrauding schools in seven Florida counties of millions of dollars. Marcus May, whose company Newpoint Education Partners managed 15 charter schools in Escambia, Bay, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Duval and Broward counties, was found guilty by a jury in Escambia of kickback arrangements and fraudulent billing. Prosecutors alleged he bought furniture, computers and school materials at inflated prices from fraudulent companies run by associates. He faces up to 90 years in prison. Tampa Bay Times.

Audit costs district: The Leon County School District incorrectly calculated the number of fulltime equivalent students and student transportation for the 2016-2017 school year, according to an audit from the Florida Auditor General. The errors mean the district will have to repay the state $419,214. The biggest problem was attendance by seniors, who were released from school that year eight days earlier than other students and also missed three days because of a hurricane. The missed instruction time equaled 58 fulltime equivalent students. Tallahassee Democrat.

Enrollment growth: The St Johns County School District is expecting 6,000 more students by the 2022-2023 school year, according to school officials. The increase of 15 percent would boost district enrollment from 40,000 to 46,000. The district plans to build a middle school, a K-8 and a high school, and expand three existing schools, to keep up with the growth. St. Augustine Record.

District bars health department: The Bay County School District has barred nurses from the Florida Health Department of Bay County from school campuses. Superintendent Bill Husfelt ordered the ban after four nurses showed up at Merritt Brown Middle School this week to audit student records. “The manner in which your department has begun the process of pervasive auditing on our campuses is an intolerable disruption to the provision of both educational and health services of Bay District Schools,” Husfelt wrote in a letter to the health department. The district and the department have been haggling over the status of the school health plan, which has to be submitted to the state. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

Tax oversight committee: Former Marion County sheriff Chris Blair is appointed to the committee that will oversee the school district’s spending of extra money brought in by the August renewal of the property tax increase to restore art, music and physical education programs, librarians, and reduce class sizes, and boost vocational programs, school safety and security. Blair was indicted two years ago on perjury and official misconduct charges, but the case was dropped when Blair agreed to resign and never run again for sheriff within the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Ocala Star-Banner.

Tax hike podcast: The Hillsborough County School District is asking voters to boost the sales tax to raise money for oft-delayed construction and maintenance projects. In this podcast, reporters discuss the referendum and why Florida districts are increasingly asking voters for more money to cover basic expanses. Gradebook.

Charter schools: The Sarasota County School Board approves an application for the State College of Florida’s new charter high school in Venice. The school expects to have 400 students by 2022. The approval came just hours after SCF announced it was ending dual enrollment course at Sarasota and Manatee schools, but SCF officials say there is no connection. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The fast-growing IDEA charter school network is planning an expansion into Tampa. IDEA stands for “Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement,” and its 79 schools around the United States have a record of success with poor students who often struggle. Chalkbeat.

Turnaround school: West Zephyrhills Elementary School in Pasco County got off the state’s watch list by improving to a C grade last year. But school officials decide to keep the changes it made to improve so it doesn’t regress. “We’re still fragile,” says principal Scott Atkins. “If we don’t continue to work on the right type of work this year, we could drop back into that DA (differentiated accountability) status.” Tampa Bay Times.

Online learning: More students in St. Johns County are turning to online learning, with 160 fulltime students and another 2,000 using it part-time. St. Augustine Record.

Mentoring teachers: New Miami-Dade County teachers are paired with veteran mentors in the program MINT, which stands for Mentoring Induction for New Teachers. “It gives you this amazing sense that you’re making a difference, that’s basically what it is,” says veteran teacher Raylin Escobar of Ben Sheppard Elementary School in Hialeah. WTVJ.

Selling property: The Flagler County School Board is considering selling a 20-acre property known as the Hammock to a housing developer. The property is not big enough for a school, according to district guidelines. The property appraiser lists the just market value at $335,000. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Foundations flourishing: The Flagler Education Foundation reports a 70 percent increase in revenue in 2018, from $396,000 in 2017 to $675,000. The nonprofit foundation provides scholarships for students, financial support for school programs and mini-grants for teachers. Flagler Live. The Brevard Schools  Foundation receives a $91,000 grant from the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. The grant will help support classroom projects and buy supplies for teachers. Space Coast Daily.

Teacher vs. district: Instructional materials used by a highly rated Miami literature teacher are removed from her classroom and replaced by district officials. Audrey Silverman had been using a textbook called McDougal-Littell Literature for a decade at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High because she says its mixture of poems, essays, short stories, Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare challenges her students. But a group of district officials saw the textbooks during a visit, decided they were “not aligned with the Florida Standard,” and had them removed. Silverman has filed a pre-grievance with the teachers union against her principal, Allison Harley, alleging a breach of academic freedom. Miami Herald.

Student dies: Grief counselors are available for Lake Nona High School students mourning the death of a 15-year-old classmate this week at an apartment complex. The cause of death has not been determined, but police do not suspect foul play. WKMG.

Students treated: Three Wakulla High School students are taken to a hospital after taking “unknown” pills during school. Deputies say the students, 14 and 15, began acting abnormally and were treated as though they had overdosed. Tallahassee Democrat.

School threats: Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie says students’ threats against schools are “an alarming trend,” and he’s urging parents “to talk to your children about their behavior on social media and other outlets.” Runcie says legislation prompted by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February “does not differentiate between a joke, a prank or a serious threat.” Sun-Sentinel. A 14-year-old Silver Trails Middle School student is arrested after saying “I know why people shoot up schools. I wish I could do it right now” during class at the Pembroke Pines school. WPLG. Miami Herald. A 14-year-old student at Franklin Academy in Pembroke Pines is arrested after he posts a photo of another boy holding an Airsoft rifle and adds the phrase “Gn Franklin” to the caption. “The suspect advised that he did not intend to direct a threat toward the school when he reposted the image with the additional text,” according to the police report. Miami Herald.

6-year-old hitchhikes home: A 6-year-old Polk County student hitchhikes home after being let off at the wrong bus stop in Lakeland. It was the boy’s first time on the school bus. The driver has been put on administrative leave. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: We can’t have honest dialogue about funding, testing, teacher pay, vouchers, charter schools, accountability – any of it – without an appreciation for the signs that academic outcomes are trending upward. Ron Matus, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Amazon employees donate more than $25,000 worth of school supplies to the students and teachers at Robert B. Ingram Elementary School in Opa-locka. Miami Herald.