DOE revises budget to agree with DeSantis, another superintendent retiring, school shooting and more

Education budgets in sync: The Florida Department of Education has revised its proposed 2022-2023 budget to align with the $22.4 billion plan proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Among the highlights of the now in-synch budgets are $260 million for construction and repairs at public and charter schools, college and universities, an $85 million construction account for the small school districts of Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Jackson, Levy and Okeechobee counties, $5 million for a new law enforcement academy scholarship for students to attend programs at state colleges or technical centers, $42 million to improve security at schools, and $72 million to reduce a waitlist of families seeking child-care through School Readiness programs. DOE removed its previous request to add $40 million to the Schools of Hope program, which helps highly regarded charter school companies move into neighborhoods with persistently struggling schools. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would require school districts to notify charter schools whether their contracts will be renewed or terminated at least 90 days before the end of the school year was approved Wednesday by the House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee. Without that notice, charter school contracts would be automatically renewed. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Members of the Florida House will consider a proposal today to repeal parts of a state law that could eliminate salaries for local school board members. News Service of Florida. The full Florida Senate has approved a bill to create a fund available to Gov. DeSantis to use during an emergency. The Senate did cut the amount from $1 billion to $500 million. The House introduced its version of the bill this week, which allocates $1 billion to the fund. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: St. Lucie County School District Wayne Gent announces that he will retire June 30, a student is arrested and accused of shooting a classmate at a Seminole County high school, a circuit court judge has ruled against the Santa Rosa County School Board and for the Home Builders Association of West Florida in a court battle over higher school impact fees, Palm Beach school board members approve the temporary appointment of the district’s assistant police chief to the top job and also mandate that face masks be worn at board meetings, five finalists for the Escambia County School District teacher of the year are announced, and a plan to build a combined YMCA and middle school in Pinellas County takes another step toward approval. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The three finalists for the superintendent’s job have different backgrounds and experiences. Jose Dotres spent three decades in the Miami-Dade district before taking an assistant superintendent’s job in Collier County last February. He’s reportedly the top choice of several board members. Jacob Oliva is the senior chancellor of the Division of Public Schools for the Florida Department of Education. He also was the Flagler County school superintendent for four years. Rafaela Espinal is the assistant superintendent in the Office of Talent Management and Innovation for the New York City Department of Education, a role she’s held since 2018. Interviews will be held at a special meeting that has not yet been scheduled. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: School officials have appointed the district’s assistant police chief to be the acting police chief while they look for a long-term leader. Patrick McCutcheon temporarily replaces Daniel Alexander, who announced Jan. 5 that was resigning Jan. 21 to take an administrative job at a government agency in Virginia. Alexander had been in the job just eight months. McCutcheon has been the district’s assistant chief since 2016. Before that, he worked 12 years in the district as an officer, lieutenant, commander and major. WPEC. Palm Beach Post. School board members voted Wednesday to require face masks at board meetings. Those in the audience who aren’t wearing masks will be taken to a separate room where they can watch the meeting and speak remotely during the public comment period. The change is effective immediately. WPTV.

Duval: In the nine days since the start of the second semester, the school district has reported more cases of the coronavirus than it had in the first three months of the 2021-2022 school year. Tuesday, the district reported 529 new cases, a one-day record. Florida Times-Union.

Pinellas: St. Petersburg’s Development Review Commission has approved a plan to build a combined middle school and YMCA in the northeast part of the city. The project, if approved by the city council, will go up at the site of the former Riviera Middle School, which was closed by budget cuts in 2008 and torn down in 2010. YMCA officials said the plan will allow the space to be used during school hours, then for extracurricular activities without children having to go home. The estimated completion date is late in 2023. WTSP.

Pasco: Students from three county high schools urged the school board this week to reinstate the policy of phoning parents to alert them about potential exposure of their children to the coronavirus. Not making those calls is “critically insufficient,” causes “chaos and confusion” and stokes anxieties about their safety, students said. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The school district is ending contact tracing of students or employees who test positive for COVID-19. District spokesman Russell Bruhn said the district no longer had the resources to continue the service. Parents will still be notified about positive cases in schools. WESH. Attorneys for the school board are asking a federal court to dismiss a $100 million lawsuit filed by parents of a girl with Down syndrome who came home from school Nov. 7, 2020, with a mask tied to her face with a nylon cord. The request cites “defects” in the court filings and “conclusory and vague” allegations. Florida Today.

Seminole: A 16-year-old student has been arrested and accused of shooting an 18-year-old classmate Wednesday at Seminole High School in Sanford. Police said the victim was shot three times, and is in stable condition at a hospital. “The preliminary information determined it centers around a dispute over a young lady at school,” said Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith. WKMG. WOFL. WESH. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press.

Volusia: Fred Lowry, a minister and former Volusia County council member, has announced he will challenge incumbent Ruben Colón for the District 5 seat on the school board. Two other races are also on the ballot. In District 1, incumbent board member Jamie Haynes is being challenged by Georgann Carnicella and Jaclyn Carrell, and two newcomers, Kimberly Short and Jessie Thompson, are candidates for the District 3 seat. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Some students who participate in the performing arts are questioning decisions by schools to cancel performances while sporting events are allowed to continue. “I do think there’s a double standard in that they care more about sports and they are more willing to let sports go on and the arts [are] just kind of taking the back seat to them,” said Parrish Community High School drama student Erin Osborne. The district announced this week that because the coronavirus positivity rate in the county is now more than 30 percent, school officials were considering rescheduling extracurricular events in schools until the positivity rate drops. WFLA. WWSB.

Sarasota: A longtime school district teacher who retired in 2009 was recently chosen as the winner of the Florida Music Education Hall of Fame award. Cindy Balistreri worked in the system 38 years as an elementary music education teacher at Booker Elementary, Phillippi Shores Elementary and Brookside Middle School before being named Fine Arts Program specialist in 1992. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: A former teacher at the Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist School in Ocala has pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against a student and was sentenced to a year of probation. Murray Ramnarine, 71, had been accused of lewd/lascivious conduct solicit by defendant 18 or older, lewd or lascivious conduct, and battery, but the more serious charges were dropped. A girl at the school had told police that Ramnarine made advances on her four times in 2018, but there was no sexual contact. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: School Superintendent Wayne Gent announced Wednesday that he was retiring June 30 after a 45-year career as a Florida educator. Gent, 67, was a teacher, basketball coach, assistant principal and principal for St. Lucie public schools between 1980 and 2000 before moving to the Palm Beach County School District, where he was appointed superintendent in 2011. He returned to the St. Lucie district as superintendent in 2015. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Escambia: Five finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are Laura Hobbs of Lincoln Park Elementary School, Alison Link of A.K. Suter Elementary, Caleb Lovely of Warrington Middle, Jamiliya McBride of Pine Forest High, and Jessica Phelps of Kingsfield Elementary School. The winner will be announced Jan. 28. WEAR. Negotiations between the school district and its teachers union have stalled on the issue of raises for veteran teachers. The district is proposing $200, which the union rejected. Pensacola News Journal. A 13-year-old student at Bellview Middle School in Pensacola has been arrested for allegedly attacking a teacher on Jan. 12. The boy pulled the teacher’s hair and shoved her against a whiteboard, according to deputies. The boy denies the charges and accuses the teacher of attacking him. WEAR.

Okaloosa: District officials are reporting a growing number of parents are calling Uber drivers to pick up their children from school. But Uber’s guidelines prohibit drivers from picking up anyone under the age of 18 unless they’re accompanied by an adult. “It’s getting bad,” said Uber driver Paula Johnson. “More and more parents are getting on board to request an Uber to go pick up their kids. … They always say, ‘But my mom called.’ I don’t care if God called. ‘You’re not getting in my car. You’re too young, sweetie.’ You get tired of explaining it.” District officials issued a statement saying, “This is not a practice that the school district encourages, and it is not part of regular school transportation.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: School board members are sending a request to the Florida Department of Education to release $61.5 million in federal coronavirus relief aid allotted to the district. The district received $6.1 million in its first round of federal aid, and $25.7 million in the second round. Board members may call a special meeting to make plans on how the money will be spent. Gainesville Sun. Thirty of the school district’s 130 school bus drivers called in sick Wednesday, and 20 buses were late — some by as much as 90 minutes, according to Superintendent Carlee Simon. Mainstreet Daily News.

Santa Rosa: A circuit court judge has ruled against the school board and for the Home Builders Association of West Florida in a court battle over higher school impact fees. The decision invalidates impact fee increases the schools wanted to put into place two years ago, citing the school board’s use of statewide data instead of local construction costs in setting the fees. School board members are reviewing the decision and will discuss it at a meeting in February. Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: School board members have approved a $78,000 contract for a manager to oversee construction of the $7.85 million Citizen Success Academy. The school, which will provide vocational and technical education options, is expected to open by August 2023. Suncoast News.

Colleges and universities: In his state of the university speech, Florida State University president Richard McCullough said he wants to hire 110 tenure-track professors and obtain membership in the Association of American Universities, an organization of top research universities in America and Canada. Another goal is to get FSU into the top 15 in the U.S News and World Report public university rankings. It was 19th last year. WTXL. Florida Politics. A $600,000 gift from an alum will allow the University of West Florida to add a sports medicine center to the Darren Gooden Center. The gift from Sandy Sansing will allow fund a need-based athletic scholarship. Pensacola News Journal.

Education podcasts: Jason Bedrick, the director of policy at the school choice advocacy group EdChoice, talks about his new report studying the claims of critics who contend school choice is destroying public education. reimaginED.

Around the nation: President Joe Biden defended his administration’s work to keep schools open during the pandemic, crediting the billions in federal aid and vaccination initiatives. Politico. Biden also said some school districts and states “didn’t do a very good job” in spending the $130 billion of federal coronavirus aid money they received a part of the American Rescue Plan Act. He also said he was disappointed in the way the bill structured how the funds would be spent. “I wish we could have written it differently,” Biden said. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Recent research has shown that every day lawmakers delay the expansion of scholarship eligibility to a wider population is a day that they (inadvertently) hinder the revitalization of neighborhoods that would benefit greatly from an increased number of stable, middle-income households. William Mattox, Gainesville Sun. The upcoming interviews of the three candidates for the superintendent’s job make a process that got off on the wrong foot more credible. But at this point, we can only hope that it’s an earnest effort to screen the finalists and introduce them to the community, and not an empty gesture to appease critics. Miami Herald.