Florida schools roundup: Security issues, new justice, return to school and more

School security criticized: School districts across the state are “not moving fast enough” to comply with the law passed last year that requires specific measures to improve security in schools, says the chairman of the state commission that investigated the Parkland school shooting. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the House Education Commission that school districts have “no sense of urgency” to have an armed guard in every school or to prepare for a potential attack, as required by the law. He suggested that districts that are slow to comply should be penalized by the Florida Department of Education. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. The Broward County School District is struggling to create safe “hard corners” in 20,000 classrooms. Finding one safe spot in a room that’s big enough for all students is one problem, and principals say they aren’t the safety experts who should be choosing the safest corner. Sun Sentinel. The Broward County School District is named one of six American K-12 districts to watch this year. As the site of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, Broward is at the center of the discussion on security in schools. Education Dive.

DOE counsel named to court: U.S. Department of Education general counsel Carlos Muniz has been appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Muniz, 49, has no judicial experience but has been a lawyer for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. This is DeSantis’ third appointment to the court since he took office two weeks ago. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. GateHouse. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Education Week. WPLG. Sunshine State News.

Students return to school: Three months after Hurricane Michael ripped through the Panhandle, Bay County High School students have returned to their school. They had been having classes in a morning shift at Jinks Middle School. Panama City News Herald.

Elected commissioner: The job of Florida education commissioner would again become an elected one, if a joint resolution proposed by State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, is approved in the Legislature. “Floridians deserve the right to vote for who is leading our education system,” says Cruz. “Voters currently have no direct influence on state education policy and this resolution seeks to put an end to that.” Current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist was the last person elected to the post, in 2000. Florida Politics.

Teachers honored: Finalists are named for the Miami-Dade School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Ray L. Parris, a multimedia teacher at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High; Adrienne DeLuv Burrows, a language arts and reading teacher at Young Women’s Preparatory Academy; Oliver Diez, a music teacher at Palmetto Elementary; and Hope Grant, an English and reading teacher at COPE Center North School. The winner will be announced Jan. 31. Miami Herald.

State charter laws ranked: Florida has the seventh-best charter laws among 44 states, according to annual rankings by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The state improved from ninth place. It ranks highly in having performance-based contracts, but poorly on authorization of charters, accountability and requirements for fulltime virtual charter schools. No. 1 is Indiana. The 74.

Outside operator hired: The Leon County School Board approves the hiring of an outside operator to take over Oakridge Elementary School if the school doesn’t get its grade from the state up to a C or better this year. Oakridge’s D grades for the past three years put it under a state law that requires the district to close it, turn it into a charter school or turn it over to an outside operator. Hired was Turnaround Solutions Inc., a Jacksonville company that would take over day-to-day operations and be paid $310,000. Tallahassee Democrat.

District’s finances: An accountant’s review of the Manatee County School District’s finances shows that the reserve fund balance has gone from minus-$8 million in 2014 to $30 million last year. State law requires that fund to be at 3 percent of revenues or higher. It now stands at 5.4 percent. “You can see the improvement the district has made, and you all have to be commended for that,” Joel Knopp, a certified public accountant who conducted the review, told school board members. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bonuses for employees: Teachers and other workers who stayed at Pasco County’s Ridgewood High School throughout the 2017-2018 school year, knowing the school was closing in the summer, are being rewarded with bonuses the school earned from the state. Ridgewood had struggled, getting D grades from the state, which prompted its conversion into the Wendell Krinn Technical High School. But Ridgewood improved to a C grade, and student test scores earned the school bonus money of $96,528. Gradebook.

Pay raise issues: Hundreds of Brevard County teachers protest over their pay outside the school board headquarters before Tuesday’s meeting. Their union has declared an impasse in negotiations with the school district. Florida Today. Okaloosa County teachers continue to work under last year’s contract with the district. The sides began talks last summer, and the union made an offer on pay, but no progress has been made and the sides haven’t met since October. Northwest Florida Daily News. Some Lee County School Board members say they were blindsided by 2.5 percent raises given to administrators last month. The board approved the raises last March, but the district held off applying them for months. Fort Myers News-Press.

Cell phones in schools: Sarasota County School Board members debate students’ use of cell phones in schools at a workshop Tuesday, and will have a more formal discussion on the district’s policy at the Feb. 5 meeting. Some board members want to ban them at school or at least restrict them by student ages. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

New school name: Manatee County School Board members will choose a name for a new high school at a meeting Feb. 26 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. The school has been referred to as North River High School, but residents in the Parrish area want the name to reflect the location. The school opens in August. Bradenton Herald.

New school choice group: Former Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds will lead the School Choice Movement, a new organization that will promote more educational options for parents and students. The group is advocating an expansion of education scholarship accounts for all Florida students to attend any school, independence for charter schools, term limits for school board members and better transportation funding for students to get to their chosen schools. Florida Politics.

Teacher/coach arrested: Bob Head, a physical education teacher and head football coach at West Orange High School in Winter Garden, is arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Police say Head, 44, hit his wife in the head with a decorative metal window frame after an argument. He’s been put on administrative leave pending a court hearing. Orlando Sentinel. WESH.

Opinions on schools: Floridians should be particularly proud of how our state has led the way toward school choice with ambitious reforms to improve education for all. Ari Bargil, Tallahassee Democrat. An education savings account program open to all K-12 students with a significant financial weighting represents the best school choice intervention for the disadvantaged. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. The theory behind funding charter schools more generously than traditional public schools is that charters would pick up enough students so a district wouldn’t have to build more traditional schools. But it hasn’t happened that way. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. The grading of K-12 schools and districts inflates the expectations of students and schools. Dan Kennedy, Daytona Beach News-Journal. Palm Beach County School Board member Debra Robinson’s salty tirade against a radio station that didn’t support her re-election bid was unfortunate, but an inspector general’s proposed punishment for her is a bit much. Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: Next fall, a leadership and entrepreneur program will be launched at Lake Worth High School. It will be the only 3DE by Junior Achievement program in a south Florida school, says principal Elvis Epps. Palm Beach Post. The Education Foundation of Sarasota’s Shirley A. Ritchey Endowment Fund teaches its goal of raising $1 million. The fund supports educational innovation. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Weather warning systems have been installed at all Escambia County high schools. The WeatherSTEM stations provide data on emergency conditions that can help school officials make choices about activities. WEAR.