Charter district revisited, new rules for Holocaust education, tax sharing and more

Charter takeover revisited: In March 2017, the Jefferson County School Board voted to turn its school district over to a charter company, Somerset Academy Inc. A documentary shows how the transformation has benefited many students, but been disastrous for a few. WLRN. How a troubled and segregated district lost its public schools. WLRN. Has the changeover been a success? Florida lawmakers think so. WLRN. The charter company that runs the district has strong ties to legislators. WLRN. Lawmakers often say money isn’t the answer for failing schools. But the extra money that went into Jefferson’s schools has made a difference. WLRN. Jefferson County’s former school superintendent says some state decisions affecting the district were “inappropriate.” WLRN. A profile of Somerset Academy Inc. WLRN. The state’s charter Schools of Hope will soon enroll thousands of students. WLRN.

Holocaust education: The Florida Board of Education will consider a new rule that would require all state districts to file plans detailing how they will be teaching about the Holocaust, slavery, women‘s contributions to the United States and other topics. Failure to do so could lead to a district losing money from the state. The move, which will be considered in a September meeting, was prompted when a Palm Beach County principal recently told a parent that he didn’t have the authority to call the Holocaust a factual event. Politico Florida. State Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, file a bill that would require all charter and voucher schools in the state to teach students about the Holocaust. Another legislator, Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said she also intends to file a bill that would withhold the pay of superintendents whose schools didn’t follow state laws requiring instruction about the Holocaust and African American history. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. A Manatee couple is questioning whether the school district is doing enough to teach about the Holocaust, and is pushing for more. Bradenton Herald.

Charters to get a share: The Duval County School Board narrowly approves a new plan that would distribute money from a sales tax hike referendum to charter schools. Superintendent Diana Greene’s proposal calls for all public schools, including charters, to get $5 per square foot from the tax increase for safety and security, and directs other money toward charters based on need and ownership status. The Jacksonville City Council is expected to vote today on whether the board’s request for the referendum should be honored, and when. If put on a ballot and approved, the tax would help pay to replace and repair aging schools. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Commissioner vs. trust: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s threats to launch a criminal investigation into the activities of a state organization that helps Floridians with disabilities has led to a shakeup of the group’s management. The Able Trust, a nonprofit organization for the education department’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, was the target of a critical audit this summer that detailed the possible misuse of millions of dollars by “incompetent” leadership. News Service of Florida.

Hearing over charter: Manatee County School District officials testify that former officials of the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school received large salaries even as the school couldn’t or wouldn’t pay its utility bills, hired felons and was buying summer meals from unauthorized vendors, among other things. The charges were levied at an administrative hearing this week that will determine if the district acted properly in removing school CEO Eddie Hundley, terminating the school’s charter and seizing it. The hearing continues through Wednesday. Meanwhile, tensions remain high at the school, with some students staging another walkout Monday and a former Manatee County NAACP president being escorted off campus by police. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Security in schools: An administrative law judge says Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran was justified in rejecting a department recommendation and awarding a contract to another company to provide a digital tool to monitor social media threats against schools and students. Abacode LLC and ZeroFox Inc. contested his decision to give the contract to NTT Data Inc. The judge wrote that “the department’s decision to select a viable solution based on lesser cost is well within the discretion provided law.” The judge’s recommendation now goes to the Department of Education for final action. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies begin training 34 charter school guards. The guards had received training from a private company hired by the school district, but Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said it didn’t comply with state law and needed to be redone. WPEC.

High-performing school: The school with the best student performance in Florida is held at a condominium clubhouse in Miramar. Somerset Academy Miramar South was the only one in the state to have 100 percent of students pass the Florida Standards Assessments math and language arts tests, and 70 percent of 3rd- through 5th-grade students scored at the top level on the FSA. About 93 percent of the charter school’s 220 students are listed as minorities, mostly Hispanic and black, with a third coming from low-income families. Sun Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County School District’s contract proposal to raise teacher pay by cutting positions and asking middle and high school instructors to teach more students is generating harsh criticism from teachers and their union. “We’ve heard from members and it has not been a positive response,” said union official Jim Ciadella. Gradebook. Seminole County teachers ratify an agreement with the school district that calls for 3 percent raises this year and a minimum of 1.25 percent next year. Orlando Sentinel.

Student suicides: Millions of dollars are now being directed to schools to deal for mental health services and suicide prevention programs for students. But an investigation shows that most Florida school districts don’t track suicides among their students. Mental health experts say without that sort of data, districts can’t properly determine if the prevention programs are working. WPTV. The University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Education will use a $5.5 million grant to help train Tampa Bay area K-12 school workers to spot students with mental health or emotional difficulties and refer them for help. Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Funds for water filters: State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, has raised more than $100,000 to buy filters for every source of drinking water in Hillsborough County schools built before 1986. Cruz says $25,000 more is needed to finish the job. She’s filed a bill to require water filters in all Florida schools that need them. WFTS.

Hazardous streets: School transportation officials in Escambia County and other school districts want the state to reconsider how it decides if walkways to schools are hazardous for students. They also want the process of applying to designate a roadway as hazardous to be streamlined, contending that many districts don’t have the time needed to conduct the necessary reviews and file a report. Pensacola News Journal.

Injuries to educators: The Manatee County School District says data released in April showing a dramatic increase in the number of educators being injured by students were incorrect. The revised numbers show the number of educators seeking medical treatment during the 2018-2019 school year actually declined slightly. The revised information did show a spike in educator injuries at Oak Park, the county’s school for children with severe disabilities, from 31 in 2016-2017 to 96 last year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School enrollment: Enrollment in St. Lucie County schools is up 4.5 percent over last year, according to the 10-day count of students. In Martin County, the increase is 1.5 percent, while the number of students in Indian River County schools is down 1.9 percent. TCPalm.

Ethics considerations: The Florida Ethics Commission recently decided that while a Hendry County School Board member might have technically violated its rules by voting to retain her husband as a school principal, it would not prosecute the case. Superintendents and board members across the state are expected to review the decision to consider if they need new rules to avoid similar situations in the future. Gradebook.

Legislative priorities: The Collier County School Board’s wish-list of priorities for its legislative delegation includes a reduction in state testing, more accountability for charter schools, flexibility in how school impact fees can be used, and more funding for the voluntary pre-K program. Naples Daily News.

Education podcast: Three Step Up For Students (SUFS) officials discuss the progress made in the first year for the state’s Reading Scholarship Account and plans for the second year, and three educators talk about how the scholarship has been used. SUFS, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship. redefinED.

Notable deaths: Nancy Noonan, an education advocate who helped start the Marions United For Public Education organization to push for better funding of schools in Marion County, has died at the age of 78. The organization is widely credited for the 2014 passage of a special 1-mill tax that provides $20 million a year for the school district. Ocala Star-Banner.

School lockers removed: A high school in Clay County has decided to remove student lockers. Officials at Orange Park High School say students don’t use them as much because they use electronic devices that contain their books and classroom materials. WJXT.

Students arrested: Four 14-year-old Auburndale High School students were arrested Monday. One was arrested for allegedly bringing a loaded handgun to school, and in an unrelated incident three others were detained and accused of leaving a threatening note in the home mailbox of a teacher. Lakeland Ledger. A 15-year-old Madison County student was arrested and accused of making an online threat against his classmates at James Madison Preparatory High School. The student said he was joking. WTXL.

Pepper-sprayed on bus: A student on a Duval County school bus pepper-sprayed another student, requiring nine students to be taken to a hospital for treatment. Two students were suspended. WJXT. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: There is broad consensus between the Duval County School Board and Jacksonville City Council regarding the half-cent sales tax proposal for school facilities. So the council should not allow a few differences to prevent a referendum by mail-in ballot this year. Florida Times-Union. The Manatee County School District’s takeover of the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school is like a slap in the face to members of the Palmetto community. They want their school back. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Existing laws should be strengthened so that students, parents and sociopaths throughout the state get the clear message — if you threaten school children you are going to be prosecuted and incarcerated. Citrus County Chronicle.

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BY NextSteps staff