Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, Hope Scholarships, Pollack and more

Bright Futures boost: The Florida Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Commission will consider adding $25.3 million into the Bright Futures scholarship program when it meets next week. The Legislature allocated $520 million in the budget for the program, but the latest projections show an increase in the number of students qualifying, boosting the cost to $545 million. The scholarships provide full tuition and fees for students who qualify as Academic Scholars in Florida high schools and colleges, and 75 percent for Medallion scholars. News Service of Florida.

Hope Scholarships: When the Legislature launched a state scholarship for students who were bullied in public schools, it expected as many as 7,300 students to apply for money  that would allow them to attend private schools or use for transportation to another public school. But only 60 Hope Scholarships have been awarded in three months, even though $4 million was raised in the first month from car-buyers who chose to direct $105 from state taxes into the scholarship fund. Some are blaming the “laborious application process.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers the scholarships. Orlando Sentinel.

Pollack’s plan: New Florida Board of Education member Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among the 17 people killed in the shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, says his first priority is to remove Robert Runcie as superintendent of the Broward County School District. “One way or another — I’ll get to Robert Runcie,” says Pollack of the man he holds responsible for his daughter’s murder. Pollack also talked about security in schools, the state program that arms school employees, student discipline, teacher tenure, unions, charter schools, vouchers and more in a wide-ranging interview. WLRN.

School security: The Broward County School District’s security progress report shows that, among other things, 82 percent of all schools now have a single point of entry, and 60 safe spaces have been installed in Stoneman Douglas High classrooms and will be installed in classrooms in all schools by the end of February. Those were among the recommendations from the report of the state commission that investigated last year’s shooting deaths of 17 at Stoneman Douglas. Sun SentinelMiami Herald. WLRN. Members of the Marion County School Board tentatively agree to add three employees to the district’s Safe Schools department by next fall, or sooner if the money is available. All the state mandates on security in schools are too much work for the current department, which consists of coordinator Dennis McFatten and one other person, the board decided. Ocala Star-Banner.

After the storm: Officials from Panhandle schools are asking the state for more help to recover from Hurricane Michael. Early estimates of rebuilding the mostly rural districts damaged range from $8 million to $200 million. “What we’re going through — in so many ways there’s a lot of a good,” says Jim Norton, superintendent of Gulf County School District. “But in a lot of ways it’s a living hell.” Politico Florida.

Medical marijuana in schools: About a dozen Florida school districts have crafted policies to allow the use of medical marijuana on campus, but many other districts are hesitant because they don’t want to risk losing federal funds. WTVJ.

Contract negotiations: The Manatee County School District and the union representing its teachers and paraprofessionals reach a tentative agreement on a portion of their collective bargaining agreement. Teachers with 16 years of experience or more will receive $2,100 pay raises, and those with 25 years will receive $3,600, retroactive to July 1. The rest of the agreement, which continues through 2020, is unchanged. Bradenton Herald. An impasse is declared by the Pasco County teachers union in its negotiations with the school district. The sides agreed on a 2 percent pay raise, the same as nonbargaining employees got, but could not agree on other issues such as teacher evaluations, using seniority as a factor in transfers and layoffs, and training. A special magistrate will be called in to make a recommendation. Gradebook.

Educators honored: Donelle Evensen, a literacy coach at Rymfire Elementary School in Palm Coast, is named the Flagler County School District’s teacher of the year. Eugenia Moore, a guidance clerk at Matanzas High, is chosen as the district’s support employee of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Finalists are named for the Bay County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Susan Brooks, who teaches art at Cherry Street Elementary; Becky Peltonen, who teaches in the agriculture program at Deane Bozeman; Ashley Champagne, who teaches 5th-grade math and science at West Bay Elementary; Erica Marino, a 5th-grade teacher at Hutchison Beach Elementary; and Kelley Hodges, a science teacher at SweetBay’s University Academy. The winner will be announced Feb. 23. Panama City News Herald.

New schools: Tentative plans for the $50 million reconstruction of Deltona Middle School are approved by the Volusia County School Board. A work schedule will be set later, and while the project is expected to take almost two years, the school will be used during construction. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Construction of Dune Lakes Elementary School in Santa Rosa is moving along, and the $35 million school is expected to open on time next fall. It can accommodate Come the 2019-20 school year, Dune Lakes will accommodate 1,012 students in grades K-5. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Transgender policies: Pasco County parents who are concerned about the way the school district deals with transgender students say the district should follow the lead of neighboring Hillsborough County. Pasco school officials have looked into Hillsborough’s policy, and say it seems to be more liberal than Pasco’s, which deals with issues on a case-by-case basis. Gradebook.

Spelling bee winner: Addison Davis, a 5th-grader at Old Kings Elementary School in Flagler Beach, wins the Flagler County School District’s spelling bee. She now represents the district in the 75th Annual First Coast Regional Spelling Bee in February. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Education podcasts: How does Florida solve its problem of not having enough teachers, especially in science? Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel.

Rezoning schools: A plan to move almost 400 Palm Beach County elementary school students to different schools to ease overcrowding around Lake Worth is being discussed at community meetings. Palm Beach Post.

School water testing: Marion County school officials say testing at North Marion Middle School shows the water is safe to drink and use. Superintendent Heidi Maier says a filtering system will be installed anyway. State officials have been testing wells in northwest Marion County since receiving reports of contamination. Ocala Star-Banner.

Teacher in limbo: It’s been almost a year since Brookside Middle School history teacher John Russo was placed on administrative leave by Sarasota County school officials after a physical altercation with a student. Russo was not charged with any crime, but he’s still working at the district’s administrative headquarters. When school officials were asked about Russo’s status this week, a district spokesperson said the district has launched its own investigation into Russo’s actions. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Employees arrested: A Marion County teacher is arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious molestation of a student. Police say Kevin Wayne Tindall, 47, who has taught at Belleview Elementary School since 2002, inappropriately touched a student. Ocala Star-Banner. A teacher at Washington High School in Pensacola is arrested after talking a student into sending him an inappropriate video of herself. Police say Mark Lua, 30, is charged with promoting a sexual performance by a child. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. An IT employee at a private school in Fort Lauderdale is arrested and charged with child pornography possession and using a computer to compile child pornography. Jesus Mendez, 35, worked at Calvary Christian Academy. Sun SentinelMiami Herald.

Pepper spray problem: Pepper spray brought to a Miami-Dade County schools in a student backpack accidentally discharged Thursday, sending pepper spray through the classroom at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Miami. Twenty-five students were treated at the scene. The student who brought the pepper spray will be disciplined. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: State Sen. Manny Diaz’s appointment as chair of the Senate Education Committee means an education reform trifecta in Florida, with reform champions in charge of education policy in both legislative chambers, as well as in the governor’s mansion. Beth Hawkins, The 74. The Florida House will be discussing teacher certification next. Here are two research-based perspectives to consider. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. It’s time to get serious about Florida’s teacher shortage. Megan Hendricks, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: St. Petersburg Catholic High School receives a $1 million donation, the largest it’s ever received, from Paul and Rose Reilly to help fund renovations and updates. Reilly is the chairman and chief executive officer of Raymond James Financial. Gradebook.