Hillsborough tax on August ballot, free online tools scrapped over new law, new police chief and more

Around the state: Hillsborough County commissioners agree to the school board’s request to place a property tax referendum that would improve employee pay on the Aug. 23 ballot, Palm Beach County school officials swear in the district’s fourth police chief in the past year, Brevard school officials have cut access to free online learning materials because they say they don’t have the capacity to review them as state law now requires, Clay County School Board members are considering moving to a self-funded insurance plan that is projected to save the district nearly $1.9 million in the first year, a long-time Leon County School Board member has said she’ll step down in the middle of her term, and the state is proposing to rebuild the collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University with steel girders this time. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A parent was arrested and six students were issued civil citations for their roles in two brawls that broke out Wednesday after dismissal at Norland Middle School in Miami Gardens. The adult was the parent of one of the six students cited, and was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: County commissioners voted 5-2 Wednesday to approve the school board’s request to place a property tax referendum on Aug. 23 primary election ballot. If voters approve the tax, it’s projected to raise $126 million a year, which would be used to improve employee pay and expands arts, electives and career education programs. Superintendent Addison Davis said the most compelling argument for the tax is the ongoing, nationwide shortage of teachers. “We have thousands of students who do not have stability with qualified teachers,” he said. Two commissioners voted against the board’s request, contending that the tax request should be placed on the November ballot because the turnout for general elections is so much higher than it is for primaries. Tampa Bay Times. The Cambridge and Advanced International Certificate of Education program will be added to 13 more high schools and a middle school this fall, The program’s advanced academic courses are now offered at Sumner High School and Rodgers, Ferrell and Franklin middle schools. WFLA.

Palm Beach: Sarah Mooney was sworn in Wednesday as chief of the school district’s police department. She was hired last month from a job as chief of emergency management for the West Palm Beach Police Department. Mooney, who is the district’s fourth chief in about a year, said her first goal will be to fill the district department’s 50-plus vacancies so the district can cut back on paying the sheriff and other city police departments to provide officers in schools. WPTV. WPEC. WLRN.

Brevard: School officials have discontinued the district’s use of an online math game and online library, saying they didn’t have the capacity to review the websites for objectionable content as required by a new Florida law regulating how instructional materials are chosen. Free access has been cut to to Epic, a 40,000-volume library for readers 12 and under, and Prodigy, a math game where students play wizards engaging in math battles. “There have been no complaints about the type of books that are on Epic, which has countless titles for different age groups,” said district spokesman Russell Bruhn. “It’s really just a matter of trying to comply with the statute.” Florida Today. Contract negotiations between the teachers union and district officials will continue today after some progress was made during talks earlier this week. The district has agreed to make bonus payments of $1,000, $1,200 and $1,200 to teachers throughout the school year. Teachers with seven or more years of experience will get a fourth payment of $1,000. The district is also offering to pay teachers $45 to cover a class when another teacher is out, up from the current $15. Space Coast Daily. Graduation ceremonies for the 17 county public high schools have been scheduled May 20, 21 and 23. Three will be at the King Center, and the others will be at the high schools. Space Coast Daily. A school bus driver is being called a hero after she helped get 40 students safely off a bus that caught fire Tuesday in Palm Bay. Principal Brian Degonzague praised driver Janet O’Connell, saying, “She prioritized the kids’ safety and her gut reaction to immediately get them off the bus was incredible and kept the scenario from turning out differently.” WKMG. WOFL. WESH.

Osceola: District officials have announced the hiring of four new principals and six new assistant principals. New principals are Gary Dunn at Discovery Intermediate, who moved up from the school’s assistant’s job; Michael Ballone at Denn John Middle, who is the assistant at Horizon Middle; Megan Gould, the principal at Parkway Middle who is moving to the same job at Horizon Middle; and Misty Cruz, who is moving from Liberty High to Parkway Middle. WFTV.

Manatee: Nine district schools are getting new principals: Michael Mullen at King Middle, Shelly DeCesare at Lee Middle, Sheila Waid at McNeal Elementary, Natalie Jadid at Moody Elementary, Michael Escorcia at Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary, Samara Hemingway Primous at Samoset Elementary, Andrea Keezer at Williams Elementary, Ginger Collins at Southeast High, and Connie Dixon at Witt Elementary. Five new district-level administrators were also announced: Wendy Mungillo, chief of human resources; Laurie Breslin, executive director of curriculum and professional learning; Stephanie Callaway, executive director of elementary education; Robin Thompson, executive director of pupil personnel services; and Maribeth Mason, associate ESE director. Bradenton Herald.

Clay: School board members are considering a proposal to create a self-funded insurance plan for the district. Travis Cummings, the Bailey Group’s vice president of benefits, estimated the district could save nearly $1.9 million during the October 2022-September 2023 fiscal year. “The goal all along from the insurance committee and the superintendent … and all the stakeholders was to make a transition that was not burdensome clearly to the employees in terms of change or disruption,” Cummings said. “It’s still United Healthcare. It’s still the same plan designs.” Clay Today.

Leon: District 4 school board member Dee Dee Rasmussen announced at Tuesday’s meeting that she was resigning from her seat in the middle of June. The 14-year board member said she needed to focus on her health and family. Rasmussen is a breast cancer survivor. “I’ve been a moderate voice, trying to carefully weigh the pros and cons, taking the high road without publicly admonishing others,” she said in a statement. “Maybe my approach is going to be out of style for the time being, until (hopefully) the political pendulum swings back toward the middle at some point. Meanwhile, I want to do this in the most responsible way possible – meaning, I need to vacate the seat in time to let the voters of District 4 choose their next representative on the school board.” The timing of her resignation allows candidates to qualify for the 2022 ballot. If she left immediately, Gov. Ron DeSantis could appoint her replacement until the 2024 election. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: School board members voted this week to not proceed with phase 2 of upgrades to athletic facilities at Buchholz High School. Last year the school got a rubberized running track. Phase 2 was to build new bleachers for the football stadium, but the board decided that the estimated $800,000 cost was too high. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: Four years after a concrete pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed and killed six people, the state has a design for its replacement that will use traditional steel girders. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: New Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. is the most important and closely watched state education chief in the country. Florida Gov. DeSantis’ political appeal and personal brand rests heavily on education, particularly a series of controversial measures exerting the state’s authority over controversial curriculum content. It will fall to Diaz to communicate, execute and enforce these polarizing initiatives. His success or failure may therefore exert an outsize effect of DeSantis’ national reputation and political fortunes. Robert Pondiscio, Real Clear Education. Competition with minimal interference from governments can help us to find the right way to instill the right values in our children. This cannot be done in the context of a monopolistic education system where the same curriculum and methods are imposed on everyone at the same time. Byron Schlomach, Center for Economic Properity at the Goldwater Institute.

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BY NextSteps staff