Florida schools roundup: School choice, contract talks, software costs and more

School choice survey: A recent survey concludes that the state’s K-12 tax credit scholarship program has greatly expanded educational opportunities for low-income families, and that those families are overwhelmingly satisfied with the program. More than 14,700 parents responded to the survey by the advocacy and research group EdChoice, with 92 percent reporting they are happy with the program and 89 percent saying they were satisfied with the private schools they chose for their children. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship serves more than 100,000 students from families with an average income of $25,740 a year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. GradebookredefinED.

Contract negotiations: The Volusia County School Districts and its teachers union reach agreement on a three-year contract that gives teachers a 3 percent raise this year and 7.5 percent over the contract in return for a 30-minute longer elementary school day. Daytona Beach News-Journal. St. Johns County School District bus drivers will receive a pay hike of 50 cents an hour, to $13.57 as a starting wage, under an agreement between the union and district. St. Augustine Record. The Brevard County School District has cut $9 million from next year’s budget. But school officials say nearly all of it is committed to mandatory spending on security and mental health services, charter school growth, money for the Florida Retirement System, costs to reopen South Lake Elementary School and resuming busing for choice schools, leaving little for teacher raises. The district has offered less than 2 percent, or about $575 a year for teachers rated highly effective. The union is demanding nearly six times that. Florida Today. The Pasco County School District is offering its teachers a 1.5 percent pay increase. The teachers want 3.75 percent, leaving the sides about $5 million apart. But both sides are optimistic that a deal can be reached soon. Negotiations resume in a week. Gradebook.

District software costs: The pricetag for completing the installation of the Manatee County School District’s business software upgrade continues to soar. School board chairman Scott Hopes says the recent estimate of $20.1 million is now about $27 million. The original cost of the upgrade was projected at $9.8 million. When it was finally rolled out July 1, the software was a year late and $10 million over budget. Three officials involved with the project were placed on leave. One has since retired and another has resigned. Bradenton Herald.

School closing suggested: Declining enrollment and the need for expensive repairs could force the closing of the long-struggling Lacoochee Elementary School at the end of the school year. Pasco County School District officials are recommending that school board approve the closing and the transfer of its students seven miles to Rodney B. Cox Elementary. Lacoochee is at just half its capacity, and closing the school can redirect the $1.6 million for renovations to other district projects. Gradebook.

Schools reopening: Dates and details are set for the reopening of all schools in Bay County, which was hard hit by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10. Florida Governor’s Office. Panama City News Herald. WJHG. Bay County student enrollment is likely to take a hit, officials concede. Panama City News Herald. The Flagler County School District is loaning three school buses filled with donated classroom supplies and cleaning products to the Bay County district. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Resignation sparks debate: An Orange County teacher’s resignation letter has prompted discussions between Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and the teachers union on ways to retain teachers. Maren Hicks, 36, resigned from the Arbor Ridge K-8 School in June and wrote a letter that warned “our village is on fire” because of standardized testing and burdensome record-keeping and policies. “Children are not data points. Teachers are not cattle herders,” wrote Hicks. “Yet, the district maintains an incessant and desperate need to pigeon hole education and goat herd bewildered students through an algorithm of disappointment and forced uniformity.” Hicks now teaches at a charter school, the Galileo School for Gifted Learning, in Seminole County. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers honored: Fifty-nine Collier County teachers are named teachers of distinction by the Champions For Learning education foundation and are now in the running for six Golden Apple awards to be presented March 29. Naples Daily News.

Relying on tax hikes: School districts across Florida and the United States are increasingly seeking tax increases to raise money for teacher pay hikes, to protect schools and repair crumbling buildings. Politico Florida. Education Week.

School board elections: Previewing the races for the Districts 2, 4 and 6 seats on the Duval County School Board. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendent, chair at odds: Sarasota County Superintendent Todd Bowden accuses school board chairwoman Bridget Ziegler of putting politics ahead of the safety of students and staff by the way she responded to a perceived threat directed to Bowden after new guidelines were put in place for transgender students. Bowden took the writer’s “see you around” ending in the complaint as ominous, while Ziegler expressed concern that the writer was questioned by the district’s head of security. Bowden pointed out the man is a political donor to Ziegler. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Regulation and choice: Greater regulations on standardized testing, open-enrollment and the prohibition of charging tuition beyond an allowed scholarship amount would cut the number of private schools participating in voucher programs, according to a study by Education Next. More than 300 private school leaders in Florida  responded to questions on hypothetical  regulations on school choice. redefinED.

Foundation success: Five years into a remake, the Public Education Foundation of Marion County is attracting record donations and was ranked the 22nd best public education foundation in the country for 2017, and second among those in the $1 million-$1.99 million category. Ocala Star-Banner. Flagler County’s Take Stock in Children program, which helps at-risk students graduate from high school and go to college and is an offshoot of the Flagler County Education Foundation, receives two of the highest honors given to such programs statewide. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Suit claims hazing: The father of a football player is suing a private school in Orange County, alleging it was negligent by allowing a hostile and abusive locker room environment in which team members could haze and inappropriately touch his 16-year-old son. Officials at Windermere Preparatory School say they haven’t seen the lawsuit, but are investigating the allegations. WFTV.

Teacher/coach suspended: Winter Haven High School teacher and head football coach Charlie Tate is suspended after being charged with misdemeanor simple battery on Oct. 10. Police says Tate pushed a cart into the leg of a student who cursed at him, then grabbed the student after he cursed again. Lakeland Ledger.

Employees arrested: Michael Dondrill Nattiel, a 37-year-old teacher’s aide at Reddick Collier Elementary School in Marion County, is arrested on a warrant from Alachua County for robbery with a weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, grand theft and obstruction of justice. Ocala Star-Banner. Reshat Abrashi, 61, a custodian at Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, is arrested after allegedly patting a female student’s buttocks. WJXT.

Student arrested: An 18-year-old student is arrested and accused of bringing brass knuckles onto the campus of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat.

Indecent exposure at school: For the second time in a week, an 18-year-old man is arrested and accused of exposing himself at the Somerset College Preparatory Academy in Port St. Lucie. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ statement that Democrat Andrew Gillum was “singing a different tune” about cutting funds for charter schools at the last debate is mostly true. But what DeSantis omits is that Gillum hasn’t called for an end to all charter schools — he is targeting those that are managed by for-profit entities. PolitiFact Florida. When the Martin County School District is paying the Martin County Sheriff’s Office for security with your tax dollars, what is a “fair” amount? Gil Smart, TCPalm. The Lee County School District’s strategic plan, Envision 2030, extends the work of Vision 2020, looking toward the needs of the graduating class of 2030 and recognizing that the foundation for students’ success is laid before they enter kindergarten. Angela Nader, Fort Myers News-Press.

Student enrichment: Five Florida high school students were among 210 worldwide presenting their research projects on food security challenges at the 25th Annual Global Youth Institute symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. They were: Christian Bentrovato, Plant City High School, Hillsborough County; Lily Gumbinner, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Palm Beach County; Samantha Rivera, Celebration High, Osceola County; Lauren Roberts, Trenton High, Gilchrist County; and Holly Sims, Maclay High, Leon County. Morning Ag Clips.