Volusia superintendent fired, tax issues go to voters, school bids rejected, and more

Around the state: Volusia school board members vote Tuesday to fire Superintendent Scott Fritz immediately, Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis is asking the school board to place a property tax increase on the November ballot to pay employees more, Martin County voters will be asked in August to renew a property tax hike for schools, Pinellas school board members approve a contract agreement with teachers, St. Johns school board members have postponed construction of a new K-8 school because the bids came in too high, Leon school board members uphold a two-week suspension for the principal of Chiles High School, Charters Schools USA wants to open a school in Sarasota County, and Republicans generally got good grades on education legislation and Democrats bad ones in ratings by a nonprofit started by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: Teachers from around the country who were hired by a south Florida online education company to help students who have struggled during the pandemic say the company has vanished without paying them for their work. They had taken jobs with Excel Online Academy, supposedly based in Miami, to create a virtual learning program for students who fell behind during the pandemic. “It’s disheartening to know that someone would use educators’ passion and a multitude of educators who already aren’t paid enough to run a full-fledged scam like this,” said New York teacher Nicky Flloyd. WSVN. Some South Florida teachers say the signing of the Parental Rights in Education law could be the tipping point for them to walk away. WLRN.

Broward: A summary of Day 5 of jury selection in the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and wounded 17 others. Jury selections resumes today, and is expected to last through May. Once a jury is seated, it will decide if Cruz gets the death penalty or life in prison. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WTVJ. A student at the Sunfire Charter School in Oakland Park was detained after he was found with a weapon on campus, according to deputies. It was a pellet gun. WSVN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis is recommending that the school board ask voters to approve a special property tax increase in November that could generate $126 million a year. Three-quarters of the money would go toward improving pay for employees. It would also fund positions for art and physical education instruction starting in kindergarten, and programs such as band and orchestra for older students. “We are asking the community to step up and really commit to public education,” Davis said. “We are really exhausting every avenue that we have to be able to keep high-qualified, skilled employees in front of our students so they can compete. We have to be able to do something different.” Four of the seven school board members have signaled their support for the referendum. Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas: School board members have approved a contract agreement between the district and its teachers union that gives average raises of 3.25 percent. The contract also calls for the district to pay the employees’ share of higher health care premiums and rising state pension contributions, gives teachers 15 extra hours of paid professional development, and will pay teachers for unused sick time after 25 years of service. The contract is retroactive to July 1. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Superintendent Scott Fritz was fired Tuesday in a 3-2 by school board members, effective immediately. Board members Jamie Haynes, Anita Burnette and Ruben Colon voted for termination. Linda Cuthbert and Carl Persis were opposed. Fritz had recently announced he would not seek an extension of his contract, which was due to expire in December. He’ll walk away with a severance package of $186,843.42. Rachel Hazel, the district’s human resources director, was unanimously approved by the board to serve as interim superintendent. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Lake: A 14-year-old Gray Middle School student was arrested after handing a teacher a note with a threat to shoot his classmates, Groveland police said. WESH.

St. Johns: The construction of a new K-8 school in the Shearwater neighborhood in northwest St. Johns County has been postponed after the school board rejected three bids because they were too high. Two years ago, district officials said they built a school exactly like the proposed K-8 school for $37.2 million. The three bids rejected by the school board were between $56.2 million and $67.5 million. WJXT. Along with new school boundaries come new school bus routes. The district has 236 routes this year, and that’s expected to grow to at least 247 for the next school year. The routes can’t be set until the school board approves recently revised school attendance boundaries. That vote is expected May 31. Parents will be notified of proposed changes in June. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: Charters Schools USA, which already has opened 60 schools in 14 Florida counties, is proposing a K-8 charter school in Wellen Park. The school would offer college and career readiness courses starting in the fall of 2023. It anticipates 615 K-8 students in the first year, with another 150 being admitted by the fifth year. Board members will study the application and could vote at their June meeting. Charlotte Sun.

Leon: School board members voted to uphold a two-week suspension for Chiles High School principal Joe Burgess, who approved extra payments to some employees without properly tracking or documenting their time. Burgess now has 30 days to file an appeal to the district court. WFSU. WCTV.

Martin: School board members agreed Tuesday to ask voters in the Aug. 23 primary to renew a property tax increase that will pay for school safety, mental health programs and teacher recruitment and retention. Projected revenue from the four-year tax is $48 million. TCPalm.

Charlotte: School board members voted Tuesday to make punishment mandatory for students who harass others, either racially or sexually. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: Eastern Florida State College announced this week that it will spend $87 million over the next 10 years to upgrade its campus in Cocoa. Among the planned improvements are new facilities for aerospace technology, engineering technology and advanced manufacturing, and facilities for health-care, science and other programs will either be upgraded or replaced. Florida Today. Hugh Hathcock, a longtime supporter of Gator Boosters and owner of Velocity Automotive Solutions, is donating $12.6 million to the University of Florida Athletic Associations. Some of the money will be used to renovate the Gators’ basketball practice facility, and the rest will go into the UAA’s facilities master plan. Gainesville Sun.

Lawmakers graded: Senate and House Republicans largely got good grades and Democrats didn’t on educational issues for the legislative session that just ended, according to the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a nonprofit founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But three of the most controversial bills — H.B. 7, H.B. 1557 and H.B. 1467 — were not used in the calculations. Why were they excluded? “The bills I shared with you are the ones we considered,” said Joe Follick of ExcelinEd, which is connected to the foundation. Florida Phoenix.

Helping foster students: A bill that will pay relatives and non-relatives the same amount of money as licensed foster parents to care for foster children, and exempt more foster care children from paying tuition and fees at state colleges and universities was signed Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: Chronic absenteeism, which is generally defined as missing 10 percent or more school days, spiked during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, records indicated that 8 million students, or 1 in 7, were chronically absent. That was widely thought to have tripled during the pandemic, according to education experts. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: I feel that every kid who wants to work hard in school, whose parents want something better for them, should have access to the kind of education that best fits the needs of that child. I feel that this is the civil-rights issue of our time. Bill Oberndorf, Education Next. If Florida is to continue to offer one of the best university systems in the country, it appears that the decision of the Legislature and the governor to withhold the names of candidates for presidencies of our institutions is a good one. Michael A. MacDowell, Naples Daily News. The process of choosing a Florida State University president last year reeked of the ultimate inside job when it was disclosed that one of the finalists was Richard Corcoran, education commissioner and a member of the Board of Governors, which was making the selection. Protests ensued, and Corcoran withdrew. So this year, the Florida Legislature passed a new public records law that makes the selection of state university presidents even more secretive. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Last fall, Gov. DeSantis promised to end high-stakes school tests. In fact, nothing important will change. A standardized test still will determine promotion from 3rd grade and graduation from high school. Test scores still will determine school grades, which will resume in 2023-2024 under the new tests. Those grades will continue to determine teacher bonuses. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel.