Still no raises for many teachers, budget worries, FEA drops suit, ex-tech chief indicted and more

Teacher raises: It’s been about 10 months since the Legislature approved a bill allocating $500 million to raise teacher pay, but about half the teachers in the state have yet to receive raises. Jacob Oliva, chancellor of the Division of Public Schools for the Department of Education, told the state Board of Education on Wednesday that 44 of the 67 county district pay plans had been approved. Twelve plans are being reviewed by the DOE, and 11 are still being negotiated between districts and teachers unions. “It’s grossly wrong and unfair that they don’t have the money yet,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who called “union bosses” both “unruly” and “irrational.” The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, responded to that criticism by saying, “Let’s be honest, the strings attached to Teacher Salary Allocation funds resulted in unfair distribution which pitted educators against one another.” Eighty percent of the $500 million was earmarked to boost starting pay, with $47,500 set as the goal by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and 20 percent was to go to pay raises for veteran teachers and other employees. The practical effect was that most districts couldn’t get to the $47,500 with the money provided by the state, and in some districts starting teachers are now being paid nearly as much as teachers with years of experience. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

In the Legislature: Florida’s budget has a $2 billion hole in it for the next fiscal year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on state revenues, and legislators said Wednesday that K-12 and higher education are likely targets for cuts. “We will be squeezing blood out of turnips,” House Budget Chair Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, told the House Appropriations Committee. “It is mathematically impossible to cut $2 billion out of this budget without taking anything from education, obviously, due to the fact that recurring (general revenue) represents a significant amount of our budget.” He also warned lawmakers not to count on federal help, even though President-elect Joe Biden has promised another stimulus package. “We do not build our budget based on the assumption of what Congress may or may not do,” Trumbull said. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-TribuneFlorida Politics. Legislators are again being asked to approve a parental bill of rights that would give them control of the moral and religious upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children. H.B. 241, proposed by state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, was approved by the House last year but died in the Senate. Florida Politics.

Union drops lawsuit: After six months of courtroom battles, the Florida Education Association has decided to voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit against the state over the constitutionality of its order to reopen schools last fall. The teachers union won at the circuit court level, but that was overturned by an appellate court. The FEA asked the appeals court for a rehearing, but now has decided to withdraw the suit. “The issues at stake in the lawsuit are still extremely important for students, educators and our communities,” said FEA president Andrew Spar. “But we are no longer pursuing those goals in court.” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran welcomed the decision. “We are thrilled to hear that the FEA voluntary dismissed their meritless lawsuit challenging the reopening of schools. This action creates a fresh opportunity for all education stakeholders to refocus their efforts on ensuring that every child in Florida has access to a world class education.” Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: The Broward school district’s former chief technology officer has been indicted by a statewide grand jury for bid tampering and unlawful compensation by a public official, Volusia schools will regroup elementary remote learners regionally instead of by schools as a way to better align teachers and class sizes, Bay school officials are considering asking voters to raise the tax millage so school employees can get raises, about 12,000 Palm Beach County students are returning to classrooms but more than half will still be learning remotely, new home impact fees that support the Santa Rosa School District could be slashed as part of a lawsuit settlement, and a high school in Seminole County will test a weapon detection system that uses artificial intelligence and security cameras. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Aug. 23 will be the first day of school for the next academic year and June 8, 2022, will be the last, the Miami-Dade County School Board decided on Wednesday. The calendar has students attending classes on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. Winter break begins Dec. 20 and students return Jan. 3. Spring break is the week of March 23. Miami Herald.

Broward: The district’s former chief technology officer has been indicted by a statewide grand jury for bid tampering and unlawful compensation by a public official. The grand jury, which was empaneled in February 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis to investigate school safety and corruption in Broward and other counties, alleged that Tony Hunter steered a $17 million contract to a friend to supply flat-screen devices to the district between 2015 and 2019. After Hunter left the district in 2019, he was hired by a company owned by the friend. Hunter, who was arrested this week by the FDLE, denied any improper activity. “I have never steered business to any vendor,” he said when the allegations were reported in 2019. “I have not ever acted unethical in any way related to any of my responsibilities as a public servant.” Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WTVJ. Michelle Kefford, the 2019 Florida principal of the year who currently leads Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, was named one of four “principals to watch” in 2021 by the online publication K-12 Dive. Kefford is in her second year at the school, which was still trying to deal with the 2018 shooting in which 17 people were killed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. K-12 Dive.

Palm Beach: About 12,000 students will switch from remote learning to in-person instruction when the second semester begins, according to district officials, taking the total number of students in classrooms to about 78,400. The 12,000 were among the students who were struggling with online learning and had been encouraged to return to classrooms. Even after the migration, a majority of of the district’s 170,000 or so students will still be learning remotely. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: An independent financial audit of internal accounts for the district’s 150 schools showed no “fraud or illegal acts” and very few issues, according to Carol Matthews, the district’s internal auditor services director. Deficits were reported in some school accounts due to events being canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A plan to build two schools in Estero has morphed into a proposal to build a single preK-8 school that can enroll up to 1,600 students but could be expanded to educate 2,300. It would open in August 2023, and become the district’s fifth school that combines elementary and middle schools. School board members previewed the plans this week, and will need to approve them. Fort Myers News-Press. A judge has ruled that the school district is violating the state’s public record act by screening emailed public records requests for key words and, when they’re found, sending it to the junk mail folder and deleting it a week later. The judge has given the district until today to turn over the relevant emails related to a request made by Alfie Oakes, who owns the farm that had been supplying the district with food until the contract was canceled. WINK.

Pasco: School board members are being asked Tuesday to change the names of Northwest Elementary and Hudson Middle schools to Hudson Primary Academy and Hudson Academy, respectively. The schools are adjacent and share a campus with Hudson High, and all three schools will have the advanced Cambridge curriculum as well as social services. Hudson Primary Academy will be for pre-K through 3rd-grade students, as the district stresses the importance of early education, while the Hudson Academy will contain grades 4-8. “People will be able to see the whole continuum of programs and services,” said board member Colleen Beaudoin. Tampa Bay Times.

Seminole: Oviedo High School will take part in a pilot program for a weapon detection system called Zeroeyes, which uses artificial intelligence and security cameras to detect guns. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. The district is offering vaccinations against the coronavirus to employees over the age of 65. Doses will be given Jan. 20 and Feb. 10 at Lyman High School. WOFL.

Volusia: A change is coming Jan. 26 for elementary school students who are being taught remotely. The district will set up regional remote classes for those 1,250 students instead of having teachers instructing remotely at each elementary school. Officials want to reduce the number of in-person classes that are too large and increase the number of students in remote classes. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The school board has approved an increase in the starting pay of teachers to $44,335, and a raise of at 2.5 percent for those who are already making more than the base rate. The raises are retroactive to July 1. Ormond Beach Observer.

Manatee: Many parents have complained that it’s unclear what learning options are available in the second semester for children who are struggling with online learning and have been encouraged to return to classrooms. They received several letters from the district with incomplete information, prompting state officials to tell Manatee administrators to “clarify their communications.” School officials now say that the options are in-person instruction, Florida Virtual School Flex, K-12 Academy, Manatee County Home School, the Manatee Virtual School and Schoology. Parents will be advised against choosing Schoology, but have the final say. Bradenton Herald.

Marion: School board members recently agreed to spend $300,000 to repair a main support beam that had been damaged by a water leak at the Howard Academy Community Center in Ocala. The building is home to Howard Academy, which was the first black school in the city, and later became Howard High School until closing in 1969. It now houses the Black History Museum and Archives of Marion County, and the district is working with the city to transform it into a center for educational programs such as tutoring and job training. Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: Six Clay County students were briefly hospitalized after the school bus they were on was hit from behind by a van on Wednesday in Middleburg. The bus had stopped to pick up a student. Six of the seven students on the bus were taken to a hospital for treatment, then discharged. No one else was hurt. Florida Times-Union.

Alachua: The school board is holding off on making a decision to fire the former director of the Buchholz High School band after he filed a union grievance. Shawn Barat, 47, was suspended in December after he was accused of exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a student. The sheriff’s office said there was no probable cause to charge him with a crime, but the district said it intended to fire him. Gainesville Sun. The 21st Century After-School program resumed Tuesday at five Gainesville schools after federal funding was extended. The district had been told in August that the funding would not be available after the end of the year. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: County commissioners said they will consider cutting home impact fees for the school district to end a legal dispute with developers. A fee that was approved last year would have directed $5,000 to the district for single-family houses, and another $3,000 for roads, parks and law enforcement. But the fee was challenged in court by developers, and in July a judge halted its collection until the court settled the issue. Now commissioners are suggesting a settlement that would cut the fees in half to settle the lawsuit. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: School board members are considering asking voters to approve for an increase in the tax millage rate so staff salaries can get raises. Each percent of an increase would cost the district about $1.5 million, and district officials said they are considering a 5 percent raise. They’ll revisit the topic in two weeks. WMBB.

Citrus: School board members gave their approval for the district to plan traditional high school graduations in the spring and to bring volunteers back into the schools. “We’ve shown we can do this safely; we’ve not had flare-ups in our schools,” said board member Thomas Kennedy. “Now’s the time to do this.” Citrus County Chronicle. The board also agreed to ask employees to vote for one of two options for the 2021-2022 school calendar. Citrus County Chronicle.

Wakulla: Three students and a district employee tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday, sending 51 students and three employees into quarantine. WCTV.

Around the nation: School superintendents around the country are calling for a faster rollout of coronavirus vaccinations for teachers and other school employees, but do not want to delay school reopenings until students get their shots. The 74. The Los Angeles School District has announced that once coronavirus vaccinations are widely available, students will have to get the shot before they can return to campuses. Los Angeles Times. U.S. News & World Report. The rate of coronavirus infections among teachers and other school employees is higher than in the surrounding communities since schools have reopened, according to preliminary data from two states and other areas that keep track. Experts said the numbers are inconclusive but need to be further investigated. Chalkbeat.

Testing for English learners: Two Hispanic advocacy groups are lobbying the state to postpone the annual ACCESS test for English language-learners because of the pandemic. The Department of Education requires that the tests be taken in-person. But representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Alianza Center of Orange County said requiring students to take the exam personally is asking them to “risk their health as COVID-19 cases increase.” Orlando Sentinel.

Spring education plans: More than 70 school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state since Tuesday were plans for the Jackson, Suwannee, Taylor, Union and Washington districts. Florida Department of Education.

More on graduation rates: Here are more reports on high school graduation rates in districts around the state. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Education podcasts: In the second part of their discussion, American Federation for Children CEO Tommy Schultz and Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill talk about where the education choice movement is headed, the leverage families have to influence education and more. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: Diverting tax revenue and siphoning education funds from our public schools, which are charged with the responsibility of providing free education for every child, is a ruinous path that benefits unaccountable private schools while further weakening our underfunded public schools. Citrus County Chronicle.