Teacher pay, bonuses, funding, education rally, Baker Act bill, state testing contract and more

Top legislative issues: Teacher pay, educator bonuses and school funding are among the biggest education issues the Legislature will work on when the 60-day session begins Jan. 14. The Senate Education Committee will get started a day earlier when it considers a bill to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500, as proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. WUSF. News Service of Florida. WPTV. TCPalm. On Monday, one day before the Legislature convenes, teachers will rally on the steps of the Capitol for higher teacher pay. “We cannot continue to do what we do and the magic that happens between a teacher and a student when our lights are being cut off. When we can’t afford mortgages or rent,” said Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association. Capitol News Service.

Baker Act legislation: A bill has been filed to reduce the number of “unnecessary” Baker Act commitments of students by requiring more mental health crisis training for the school safety officers who are usually the first people called to deal with a problem. H.B. 1083, filed by state Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-St. Petersburg, would also set new reporting and tracking standards for students who are removed from schools or events, and require schools to notify a parent or guardian before removing the child from school in most cases. A companion bill, S.B. 1062, has been filed by state Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart. Florida Politics.

State testing contract: The Florida Department of Education has extended and expanded the contract of the American Institutes for Research to provide standardized tests for the state’s students. AIR won a $220 million contract six years ago to provide language arts and math exams. Now, it will also provide social studies and science assessments. Features of the agreement are a single log-in for all tests, the same online tools for all tests, and streamlined user manuals and scoring reports. The contract does not include any adjustments that will be required when the state’s new academic standards are introduced this year, according to K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva. The value of the contract was not disclosed. Gradebook.

Districts’ 2020 agenda: New Volusia County school Superintendent Scott Fritz says he will promote literacy programs in elementary schools and pair high-impact teachers with struggling students, emphasize writing, push middle-schoolers into algebra, geometry and biology earlier and have some take the SAT as early as 7th grade, and help focus high school students on setting and reaching after-graduation goals. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The appointment of a superintendent tops the agenda of the Escambia County School Board. The final community forums to discuss priorities for the search are this week. Voters decided in 2018 to switch from electing superintendents to appointing them. Pensacola News Journal.

School social workers: The Bay County School District is looking to hire 33 social workers to help students who are still recovering from Hurricane Michael. District officials plan to put one worker in each school, but may adjust to account for more homeless students at some schools. The district is using a $2 million grant from the state to pay for the program. WMBB.

Superintendent search: Hillsborough County School Board members are expected to pare the field of 51 applicants for the superintendent’s job to five or so by the end of the day. Those finalists will then be invited to Tampa on Jan. 16 for interviews with the board, which hopes to make a decision by Jan. 21. Superintendent Jeff Eakins is retiring no later than June 30. Gradebook.

Back to school: Students return to Brevard County schools today, and some parents are complaining that the extra days off after the holidays are an inconvenience to them. They say a midweek start makes it harder for students to get back into the school routine, and that they’ve had to make special arrangements or disrupt their work schedules. Florida Today.

School choice enrollment: Registration for school choice begins today in the Leon County School District and continues through March 1. Parents can select three schools, in order of preference, and students will be chosen by lottery. WTXL.

School’s boil water notice: An underground water line break has prompted a boil-water notice at Dodgertown Elementary School in Vero Beach. TCPalm.

Principal removed: A Volusia County principal has been removed after a district investigation concluded that he acted unprofessionally. Shantell Adkins has been replaced at Ortona Elementary in Daytona Beach on an interim basis by Kati Dyer, the district’s director of K-12 curriculum and turnaround schools. School staff members told investigators that Adkins made jokes about their weight, intimidated them, favored a teacher he was rumored to be having an affair with and created a hostile workplace. District officials would not comment on the action or whether Adkins has been reassigned. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV.

Arrest made in teacher’s murder: The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has arrested a man and accused him of murdering Duval County teacher Vivian James, who was found dead in her home Dec. 28. Deputies allege that Zebulon Lorenzo Perkins Sr., 27, killed the 49-year-old James during a home invasion. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: There is a positive role for teacher unions in public education if they will adopt a new unionism that puts people above profits and empowers teachers and families to have more control over how each child is educated. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. Parents have long recognized that in a state and country that mandates the provision of public education, there should be reasonably safe access to that education and when children live within a reasonable walking distance of school, they should be able to walk safely to and from school or be considered eligible for school bus transportation service. Two bills being considered by the Legislature would make that possible. Rob Doss, Pensacola News Journal.