Florida schools roundup: Rebuilding plan, officiating classes, storm and more

School rebuilding proposed: Hillsborough County school officials say they want to rebuild the historic Lee Elementary School in Tampa, which was severely damaged by a fire in September 2017. If the school board approves the plan, contractors will preserve the brick exterior but redesign the interior to conform to modern standards. As long as the district rebuilds, insurance will cover the full cost for construction. If it doesn’t rebuild, the district would receive just 10 percent of the insurance to cover classroom materials and equipment. Tampa Bay Times.

Sports officiating classes: Two Collier County high schools now offer sports officiating classes in an effort to ease a shortage of officials for school sporting events. Students at Palmetto Ridge and Golden Gate high schools will be trained in the sport or two of their choice, and will be offered tests to become certified as officials. “This class provides our students another opportunity to get a certification, and potentially a career in officiating,” says Superintendent Kamela Patton. “Partnering with our local officials association, the Great Naples Officials Association, and the Florida High School Athletic Association fulfills a community need while producing our own qualified officials to help boost our school athletics programs.” Naples Daily News.

Watching the storm: Leon County school officials say they are watching the progress of Tropical Storm Michael, which could become a hurricane by today or tomorrow and is threatening to hit somewhere in the Panhandle by Wednesday. “We know you’re wondering and the superintendent has already spoken with the chief of security this morning for a weather update,” according to a district tweet. “There are no changes to Wednesday school schedule AS OF THIS MOMENT. We will continue to monitor the progress and update you with any news.” Tallahassee Democrat. Panama City News Herald. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald.

Charter accountability: A southwest Florida legislator says he’s working on a bill that would increase accountability measures for charter schools. State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his legislation, which is still in the “conceptual” stage, would require charter schools to publish student and teacher turnover rates and to have at least five board members. “I think we have to get to a place where we have an equal playing field,” says Donalds. “What that looks like is charters accepting more accountability, but traditional public schools have to deal with more possibility of failure.” Naples Daily News.

Charter mismanagement alleged: The former treasurer at Mason Classical Academy files a complaint with the Florida Department of Education accusing the school’s principal of being verbally abusive to staff, students and parents and exercising lax overnight of the school’s finances. The complaint, filed by Joe Baird, says principal David Hull “knowingly and willfully created an environment … where fraud can occur without detection,” though it doesn’t allege any fraud has occurred. The school was cofounded by Collier County School Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds in 2012. Donalds and her husband, state Rep. Byron Donalds, are no longer involved in the school and corroborate the allegations. Lichter is the academy board president and defends Hull’s actions, according to the complaint. Naples Daily News.

State’s ESSA plan: The key details in Florida’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act include goals of boosting reading and math achievement by 12 percentage points in the next 10 years and the graduation rate by 14.2 percent in seven years, and requiring schools to test 95 percent of their students or submit a plan to fix the problem. A failure to teach 95 percent the following year would prompt state intervention. Education Week.

Contract agreement: The Martin County teachers union and the school board reach a contract agreement that will provide teachers raises ranging from $1,800 to $7,800 annually, with the amount tied to their experience. Florida Phoenix.

Rally violated policy: Orange County school officials say a John Legend-led rally at Evans High School supporting Amendment 4 violated district policies prohibiting political activities on campuses. They say they agreed to rent the school to a religious group because they routinely allow the use of schools for worship and other activities. When they realized the event was a political rally for Amendment 4, which proposes the restoration of voting rights for most felons, they told the organizers they’d have to find another location. When the group said it couldn’t find another venue, the district allowed the event to go on as long as it didn’t advocate for Amendment 4. But it did anyway. Orlando Sentinel.

Achievement gap: Three years after the Sarasota County School District launched initiatives to close the achievement gap between minority and white students, the gap widened slightly last year and is still higher than the state average. School officials attribute the gap to the high test scores recorded by many students, but school board member Eric Robinson says the question remains: “Why is it that a learning environment that affects the white kids so dramatically doesn’t work on black kids?” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

VPK funding, test scores: Florida ranks second in the nation in serving Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten students in 2017. But the state is just 42nd in state spending, dropping from $2,353 per student in 2016 to $2,282 in 2017, and the percentage of VPK students ready for kindergarten has fallen from 76 percent in 2010 to 54 percent this year, according to the annual State Preschool Yearbook published by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School board elections: Manatee voters will decide next month whether to change the way it elects school board members. Right now, board members are elected countywide. In March 2017, the board voted 3-2 to ask voters to switch to election by districts. Board members in favor say single-member district voting makes campaigns less expensive. Opponents say the move would make it easier to “buy” elections and would cut down on cooperation as board members would focus more on directing resources to their districts. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Previewing the races for the District 2 and 4 seats on the Indian River County School Board. TCPalm. Previewing the Flagler County School Board’s District 2 race. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Previewing the race for the District 1 seat on the Charlotte County School Board. Charlotte Sun.

Health plan submitted: The Bay County School District submits its School Health Services Plan to the state without the authorization of the Florida Department of Health in Bay County. School officials have accused the health department of losing student records, have criticized its auditing process and banned department nurses from county schools. WMBB. WJHG.

Squabbling over audit: The past and current Leon County school superintendents are arguing about who’s to blame for a critical state audit that will cost the district more than $419,000. Current Superintendent Rocky Hanna says ex-superintendent Jackie Pons is responsible for policies that allowed seniors to be released eight days earlier than other students in 2017. That meant fewer hours of instruction, so the state wants a refund. Pons pointed out that his tenure ended in November 2016, that Hanna was superintendent in the spring of 2017 and that the issue of senior instructional time was not a problem in previous years. Tallahassee Democrat.

Orientation for charters: The Hillsborough County School District is offering a class that would help would-be charter school operators understand the application process and what requirements are necessary for an application to get approved by the school board. The county has 49 charter schools, which educate about 10 percent of the district’s students. Gradebook.

Superintendent honored: Miami-Dade County School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is named one of Florida’s most influential business leaders by Florida Trend magazine. Carvalho has been superintendent of the nation’s fourth-largest school district since 2008. Miami Laker.

Personnel moves: Jakob Wisdom is named interim director of the Tate High School band. He replaces Roy King, who resigned after being put on administrative leave in August when undisclosed allegations were made against him. Deputies say that investigation is ongoing. NorthEscambia.com. WEAR.

Notable deaths: Thomas Bowers, a former principal at Merritt Brown Middle School in Panama City who worked for 37 years for the Bay County School District, has died at the age of 78. Panama City News Herald.

Displaying the motto: The Lake County School District is placing state seals in all schools to comply with a new state law requiring schools to prominently display the state motto, In God We Trust. Lifetouch Inc., which handles yearbook photography for the district, donated the framed prints. Daily Commercial.

District sued: A second federal lawsuit has been filed against the Okaloosa County School Board and Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson that alleges they tolerated “a historical pattern and practice” of abuse of disabled students and then tried to hide it. A Tallahassee legal firm filed both suits on behalf of students and their parents. Destin Log.

Path to resignation: In school administrative roles in 2000 and again in 2004, Ron Ciranna worked with FBI officials on several cases involving alleged embezzlement charges, cost overruns on projects, and mail and bank fraud from previous school officials. Now, Ciranna is on the other side, as the Manatee County School District investigates the deputy superintendent’s role in a business software update that cost twice what was expected. Ciranna was placed on leave and has since decided to retire, and the school board will decide Tuesday whether to accept the retirement offer. Bradenton Herald.

Ex-teacher facing charges: A former teacher at Hammock Point Elementary School in Boca Raton has agreed to be extradited to Canada to face sexual assault charges after his request to be freed on bond in Palm Beach County was denied. Owen Headley, 55, is accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old relative at a family wedding last year. Palm Beach Post.

School guard fired: A Miami-Dade charter school security guard is fired for leaving his gun unattended in a school bathroom. A 5th-grader found the gun in a bathroom at Somerset Academy Bay. The student reported the gun to his teacher, who alerted administrators. WSVN. Miami Herald.

Students arrested: A freshman at the Vero Beach High School Freshman Learning Center is arrested for bringing a gun to school. WPEC. A student at Nova High School in Davie is detained by authorities after stabbing a classmate in the leg with a pair of scissors. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: When a 10-year-old girl brings a paring knife to school to protect herself, school officials and law enforcement officers need to use common sense to find a response that’s short of shackling her with a felony arrest record. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. Something has to be done about funding for Florida’s public schools. Despite a solid economic recovery in Florida, the state has only increased spending on students by 1.36 percent over a 10-year period, forcing schools and teachers to constantly do more with less. Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy, Sun-Sentinel. It’s important to note that the Florida auditor general did not find that some Lee County School District expenditures were inappropriate, or that taxpayer funds were wasted. The major findings are that the district simply used the wrong category of funds, impact fees, to pay debt on existing schools, and the wrong category of funds, capital millage, to pay the cost of mold remediation in schools. Keith Martin, Fort Myers News-Press. The 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, spoke of a school system in ‘the grip of a crisis’ and kicked off cycles of shortcomings for American schools. David Smith, Guardian. Superintendents are not the source of all ills or the answer to all challenges facing our schools. But appointing them instead of electing them is a clear first step in changing the course for Escambia County. Pensacola News Journal. The deputy who retreated during the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 faces another stand-or-run choice this week. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Traditional educational rankings are riddled with methodological flaws, and a more reasonable evaluation, based on students’ performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests, flips the script. Stan Liebowitz and Matthew L. Kelly, Reason. Over the past couple of school years the Marion County School District and area industries have joined forces and created a workforce development program that is turning out hundreds of high school graduates annually who have the skills to get a job making a decent wage. It is a win-win that is not only changing individual lives but the community as well. Ocala Star-Banner.

Student enrichment: Classes in a new Parent Academy are helping Hernando County parents help their children with their education. The classes provide guidance on topics ranging from student achievement to personal growth. Bay News 9. The 2019 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School yearbook will include photos of the therapy dogs that some students rely on to deal with the trauma from the Feb. 14 massacre. Miami Herald. The Marion County Hospital District will spend at least $1.4 million to build greenhouses in seven Marion County schools over the next three years. Students will grow vegetables hydroponically, with enough output to eventually supply produce for all the county’s schools. Ocala Star-Banner. Since 2001, upscale auctions in Naples have raised more than $176 million for Collier County preschool programs and other initiatives. Naples Daily News. Fifth-graders at the Achieve Center in New Port Richey help maintain and stock the school’s Little Food Pantry so that classmates who need food can have some. Tampa Bay Times. About 120 students at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral farm fish in the school’s academy of natural resources. Fort Myers News-Press.