Education budget cuts, no special session, state threatens to slash school’s funding, and more

Legislative priorities: The Legislature met Tuesday to swear in new members and officially present Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, as the new Senate president and Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, as speaker of the House. In their opening speeches, both men said it was not the Legislature’s role to stop the spread of the coronavirus although they did acknowledge the budget problems created by the pandemic. But they will wait for the 90-day session that begins in March instead of calling a special session to address the problems now. Nine members missed the organizing session because they tested positive for the coronavirus or were exposed to someone who has. Simpson stressed that the state would have to cut spending because of a projected $5.4 billion shortfall in revenues in 2020 and 2021, and specifically mentioned K-12 and higher education and health care as targets. Sprowls announced initiatives in literacy, job training, virtual education, broadband expansion, in-state tuition for grandchildren of Florida residents and a higher education emphasis on programs leading students into high-demand jobs. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. WFSU. Politico Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the state: A Gainesville school has been ordered by the Florida Department of Education to offer in-person classes five days a week for all students by Thursday or risk losing funding from the state, two districts have contract agreements for teacher raises while another has declared an impasse and one will hold off further talks until its financial picture gets clearer, diagnostic testing in Sarasota County shows the “COVID slide” hasn’t been as severe as feared, the summer break in Lee County will shrink from the usual 10 weeks to seven in 2021, new school board members are sworn in, with one in Miami-Dade collapsing shortly afterward but seems to be okay, and a Palm Beach County board member is being urged to resign after buying a house outside the district she represents. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Steve Gallon III, who was recently elected to the school board, was sworn in Tuesday and collapsed right after giving a speech. Gallons was taken to a hospital by an ambulance, but was well enough to call into the meeting from the hospital to cast a vote for the re-election of Perla Tabares Hantman, as the board chair. He said he would be at today’s board meeting. Other new board members sworn in were Lucia Baez-Geller, Christi Fraga and Luisa Santos. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFSU.

Hillsborough, Pinellas: New members were sworn in to the Hillsborough and Pinellas school boards on Tuesday. Jessica Vaughn, Nadia Combs and Henry “Shake” Washington are new members on the Hillsborough board. The board then elected Lynn Gray as its chair. In Pinellas, Laura Hine and Caprice Edmond joined the board, which re-elected Carol Cook at the chair. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: School officials and the teachers union have reached a tentative agreement on a deal that would raise the minimum teacher pay to $47,500 and give veteran teachers making more than that raises of at least 1.27 percent. About 39 percent of the district’s teachers, more than 5,400, would be boosted to the $47,500 level. The agreement includes pre-K teachers, who weren’t included in earlier district proposals and led to an impasse being declared Oct. 29. Teachers and school board members now will vote on the deal. If both approve, the raises would be retroactive to the beginning of the school year. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Sixth- and 7th-graders joined 8th-graders at Horizon West Middle School in Windemere in switching to remote learning until Nov. 30 after an outbreak of the coronavirus. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. A private school science teacher has been arrested and accused of threatening a student with poor grades if she didn’t send him sexual videos. Dion Bryant, 25, worked at Winners Primary School in Orlando, which has students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WOFL.

Palm Beach: New school board member Alexandria Ayala was sworn in Tuesday, and already faces calls for her to resign. Ayala and her boyfriend recently bought a house outside the district Ayala was elected to represent, and she attested on the mortgage that she intended to live there. She claims the boyfriend lives in the house alone and that she’s living with her mother inside the district boundaries. Gov. Ron DeSantis has not weighed in on the issue, but has been made aware of it. He has the power to remove Ayala from office and replace her if he feels she’s violating the law that requires board members to live within the district they represent. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Sun Sentinel.

Polk: The school district has received a $1 million grant from the governor’s office that it will use to buy tens of thousands rapid-results coronavirus tests that the health department will administer to students and staff. “Getting the testing kits out to the health department, to allow them greater access and make sure that all our families have access to rapid tests, will ensure that our students can get back to class as soon as possible,” said Andrew Baldwin, who directs the federal programs and grants management at the district. WFLA.

Lee: The district’s calendar for the 2021-2022 school year will give students a seven-week summer vacation instead of the usual 10 weeks. This school year ends June 17, and the next one begins on Aug. 10. The calendar was approved by the school board Tuesday. WINK. School board members agreed Tuesday to make rapid-results coronavirus tests available for symptomatic students who have the permission of their parents to receive them. The testing could begin this week. WFTX. WBBH. Gateway Charter High School switched to online learning Tuesday after a threat of a mass shooting was made against the school. Deputies are investigating. Remote learning continues today. WINK. WFTX. WBBH. A Lee County school bus driver with children from the North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts board managed to pull the bus over when she began feeling lightheaded, call dispatch for help and then put on the emergency brake before passing out. The driver was taken to a hospital but was feeling better, district officials said, and no students were injured. WINK.

Pasco: The union and the district have agreed to hold off on further contract negotiations until the district has a better idea from the state how much money will be available for schools. The current proposal would raise starting teacher pay to about $45,000, with teachers already at that level or higher getting a raise of less than 1.5 percent. District officials said delaying negotiations offers the possibility that more money could be available for raises. “Both the union and ourselves decided to wait and see where we are, and if we have any money (for extra raises),” said Nora Light, the district’s chief negotiator. “It could go either way.” Tampa Bay Times.

Seminole: Dozens of parents urged the school board to end its mask mandate in schools. They said they were not against masks, but want the use of them to be optional. Forcing students to wear them ignores the rights of parents to make medical decisions about their children, they claimed. The district’s response was that the policy could change at any time, but that “while COVID-19 numbers remain high and the virus remains a serious threat to our community and campuses, the mask/facial covering policy will remain in place. This is for the safety of all our students and staff attending face-to-face learning.” WOFL.

Volusia: A contract impasse has been declared after district and union negotiators couldn’t agree on raises for teachers. The district received about $10 million from the state to improve teacher salaries and boost the starting wage as close as it could to Gov. DeSantis’ goal of $47,500. The proposed starting salary of $44,335 would be about $5,000 higher than it is now. The problem, though, is how much veteran teachers receive. The district is proposing to kick in $250,000 to improve pay for veteran teachers by 2 percent or less. The union wants the district to spend $3.6 million for those raises. The issue will be settled by the school board. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Mary Foreman was sworn in as a new member of the school board on Tuesday, and Charlie Kennedy was elected the board chair. Foreman defeated longtime board member Dave Miner in the Nov. 3 election. Bradenton Herald. Seven new coronavirus cases among students were reported at five schools, sending at least 42 students and employees into isolation. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: Results from the district’s first round of diagnostic testing are in, and school officials said students did better than expected. The scores were lower than in the past, but the so-called “COVID slide” wasn’t as severe as officials feared. The results also showed that some students are doing well with remote learning. Forty-seven percent of elementary and middle school students who are learning remotely scored at or above grade level in math or reading, year to year, while 39 percent of those students attending schools achieved that. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Karen Rose and Tom Edwards were sworn in Tuesday as newly elected members of the school board. Rose, a former teacher and administrator in the district, pledged to listen to the community as a way to scale down the often bitter verbal sparring that has plagued the board the past few years. “You can’t give everybody everything they want, but you can certainly give them time, respect, understanding and acknowledgment,” Rose said. “… When you do that and do that the best you can as an individual and board, things start to be solved.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Nancy Thrower has been elected chair of the school board, which also welcomed newly elected District 1 member Allison Campbell. Campbell defeated Lori Conrad in the Nov. 3 election to replace Nancy Stacy, who retired after eight years. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: New Superintendent Timothy Smith said he has two “push points” to pursue: Improving student proficiency and closing the achievement gap between white and black students. “All these many years in education, that’s always bothered me, that gap,” he said. “I believe we know how to close it. I believe it’s expensive. It requires a tremendous amount of funds. I think it requires a shift in our paradigm.” He said the district has to find a way to provide as many academic and social services as possible that will produce results while staying within the budget. Smith replaced Malcolm Thomas, who had been superintendent since 2008. In 2018, voters decided to switch to an appointed superintendent. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: District teachers are alleging that health officials aren’t providing enough information in a timely manner about the spread of the coronavirus. Contact tracing often delays the public release of information and the contacting of others who may have been in close contact with someone who tests positive. “There’s a huge delay,” said teachers union president Victoria Kidwell. “The teachers are on the front line and seeing the holes in the system. The district has given that responsibility to the Department of Health, which they don’t feel are doing a great job.” A Clay County teacher died Friday of complications from the coronavirus. WJXT.

Alachua: Florida’s Department of Education has ordered the PK Yonge Developmental Research School to offer in-person classes five days a week for all students by Thursday or risk losing funding from the state. DOE officials said the school’s plan violates its reopening order. The school submitted a reopening plan that the state approved July 17, but state officials said that plan called for a fulltime, on-campus component. About half of the elementary students are in classrooms, but about 80 percent of secondary students are learning remotely. Gainesville Sun. School board members Diyonne McGraw and Leanetta McNealy were sworn in Tuesday. McNealy, who is starting her third term, was also elected board chair. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Two newcomers were sworn in as school board members on Tuesday. Brenda Ruthven and Winston Chester have replaced Ryan Neeves, who did not seek re-election, and the retiring Ginger Littleton. The board also set its 2021 meeting schedule at twice a month. WMBB. WJHG.

Martin: John Millay was sworn in Tuesday as the district’s first appointed superintendent. He replaces the retiring Laurie Gaylord. Millay said he will prioritize good relations. “In real estate, it’s location. In education, it’s relationships, relationships, relationships,” he said. “So, first and foremost, that’s what we need to do.” He also said he has no plans to change the way the district has been dealing with the pandemic. WPTV.

Indian River: Six cases of the coronavirus were reported at four schools, and 26 people have been ordered to quarantine. WPEC. St. Helen Catholic School in Vero Beach is closed until Nov. 30 after four students and two employees recently tested positive for the coronavirus. The K-8 school, which is part of the Diocese of Palm Beach, has 270 students. TCPalm.

Citrus: School board members have approved a contract between the districts and its teachers to raise salaries, starting Dec. 21. The starting pay for teachers will be $46,000, up from $38,400, and veteran teachers will receive $1,500 raises while other district employees will get 46 cents more an hour. Before the meeting, Superintendent Sandra Himmel and board members Ginger Bryant and Sandy Counts were sworn in. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: New school board members Cheryl Massaro and Jill Woolbright were sworn into office Tuesday, and Trevor Tucker was elected to chair the board. Flagler Live.

Jackson: New Superintendent Steve Benton and two school board members were sworn in Tuesday. Benton was superintendent from 2012-2016 before leaving for a job with the Liberty County School District, but decided he wanted to return to “see if I could help.” Also welcomed were board members Stacy Goodson and Tony Pumphrey, and Pumphrey was elected board chair. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Nearly two years after beginning a search for a new president, Miami Dade College trustees have hired Madeline Pumariega. She is currently the provost at Tallahassee Community College who also served as chancellor of the Florida College System and once worked as a campus president at MDC. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. WLRN. WFOR. An appeals court has backed Florida Atlantic University’s firing of a professor who questioned whether the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 26 students and adults happened. James Tracy has argued that the university violated his First Amendment rights, but the court ruled that he was fired for insubordination after refusing to file reports about his outside activities, which was required under the collective bargaining agreement. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach Post. Many Florida universities and colleges are having students stay home after the Thanksgiving break until the second semester as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. WTSP. The NCAA is delaying the implementation of a policy requiring schools to document and track sexual misconduct cases on campuses. The policy was supposed to begin next year, but has been postponed until the 2022-2023 school year. Politico Florida.

More on the coronavirus: Some education experts say the pandemic is creating an environment that allows leaders to try things that ordinarily would not be considered. Education Dive. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to forgive student loans for those who are economically stressed, but is feeling pressure from others in the Democratic party to expand the amount of debt relief. NPR.

Data available online: The Florida Department of Education has started a webpage that will let families get information about academic performance and progress of schools and districts. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: For those who truly believe in school choice, this is an easy call: Let families — parents and students — decide what is best for themselves. Keep the current learning options in place for students for the second semester. Tampa Bay Times. The state should let university and state college presidents monitor their own campuses, and decide for themselves which sanctions are most likely to be effective. That’s the path Florida’s universities and colleges are now following  – and the one that makes sense. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff