Property values and tax hike requests, spelling bee, challenged books, and more

Around the state: Why voters around the state are being asked to approve higher taxes for schools even as property values soar, six Florida students remain in the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition after the first day, five more St. Johns County School District library books challenged by parents have been cleared by several district review committees and will remain in place but with some restrictions on access, a Brevard teacher’s drive to place challenged books into the hands of students this summer draws criticism from the Moms for Liberty, a proclamation affirming the Seminole County School District’s “commitment” to supporting LGBTQ students and staff was taken off the school board agenda at the last minute by the superintendent, Palm Beach County school support employees will get raises and bonuses under a contract agreement with the district, and the Putnam County School District revises its school calendar for next year to include the words “Good Friday Holiday.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A former teacher and athletic director at Everglades High School is facing charges of sexual battery by a person in custodial authority on a victim over 12 and under 18. Deputies said Carlos Menendez, 48, has been in the county jail since May 27. He was the subject of several investigations in 2020 when a teenage girl reported they had engaged in sexual activities. Menendez resigned, and has been teaching in Delaware. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: School board members discussed ways to improve security in district schools, such as more officers, training safety specialists to become sworn officers, updating policies and increasing the number of surveillance cameras. WKMG.

Palm Beach: School bus drivers will get $2.25-an-hour raises as part of a contract agreement reached with the district. Other members represented by the service employees union will get 3.5 percent raises. Both are retroactive to Jan. 1. All employees will also get $1,500 bonuses. School board members are expected to vote on the agreement today. WPTV.

Lee: Ana Lamotta, a peer collaborative teacher at Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary School in Cape Coral, has been named the school district’s mentor of the year. WFTX. A Fort Myers High School student has been arrested and accused of threatening another student. Police said the 17-year-old boy made a written or electronic threat against his classmate. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: A district teacher’s drive to raise money to buy copies of challenged works of literature and get them into the hands of students is being criticized by the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. Adam Tritt, who teaches AP English at Bayside High School, has raised more than $1,400, which he believes can buy 250 used books for students to read this summer. In a Facebook post response, Moms for Liberty wrote, “Warnings to our children…1994: Don’t take candy from strangers. 2022: Don’t take pornographic books from strangers.” Florida Today.

Seminole: A proclamation affirming the school board’s “commitment to a supportive school environment for students, families and staff in the LGBTQ community” was removed from the agenda of Tuesday’s school board by Superintendent Serita Berman. She did not explain her decision. Some parents supported Berman, contending the proclamation would just divide students into groups. Others were critical, saying LGBTQ students need support. WKMG.

Collier: Ellen Keegan, principal at Naples High School for the past school year, has been named the principal for a new high school that will open in north Naples in August 2023. The school is expected to be named later this year. WFTX.

St. Johns: Five more school library books challenged by parents have been cleared by several district review committees and will remain in place. But the committees did recommend that access to four of the books be restricted by grade level. More committees will meet today to review seven more books, and 37 more books will be reviewed in the next few months. All recommendations now go to Superintendent Tim Forson for a decision. WJXT. School boards members unanimously approved revised boundaries for seven schools at all levels in the northwest and northeast parts of the county in order to ease overcrowding at some schools. The changes go into effect this fall. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Escambia: Warrington Middle School administrators are anxiously waiting for state grades that will be released next month. If the school doesn’t get a C or higher, it will close for the 2022-2023 school year and reopen the following August as a charter school. “This school has to stay open and it needs to stay open as an Escambia County public school, because public education and democracy to me are two sides of the same coin,” said principal Denny Wilson. “It’s foundational to me, it’s almost a gospel mandate that we teach all kids.” Pensacola News Journal.

Citrus: Central Ridge Elementary School in Citrus Springs is just one of 24 schools and organizations across the country to receive a grant from the Wild Ones Seeds for Education Program to take part in a critical native plant project. Students, staff and volunteers plant Florida native plants as part of the program, and learn how they benefit the environment and the wildlife that rely on them for survival. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: The school district’s calendar for the 2022-2023 school year once again describes April 7, 2023, as being a day off for the “Good Friday Holiday.” School board members had approved the calendar with that reference, but the district’s calendar committee changed it to “student/teacher holiday.” A former teacher complained, and on Tuesday Superintendent Rick Surrency released a statement and a final calendar that restores the words “Good Friday Holiday.” He said, “We want to go ahead and make sure we recognize that accordingly.” Palatka Daily News.

Columbia: A Fort White High School security guard has denied allegations that he engaged in sexual activity in the media center April 14. Steven Hill is still under investigation, and school board members will decide at their June 14 meeting whether to fire him. WCJB.

Property values and school taxes: With property values soaring across the state, many parents are asking why voters are being asked to approve higher taxes for schools. The answer, basically, is that when property values increase, the state lowers the school tax rate homeowners pay as a way of minimizing the increases. Tampa Bay Times.

National Spelling Bee: Six Florida students remain in the Scripps National Spelling Bee after three rounds of competition on Tuesday: Juan Rondeau, 13, 7th grade, Miami-Dade County; Sydney Graham, 14, 8th grade, Leon County; Brody Santos, 12, 7th grade, Miami-Dade; Varshitha Bojanapati, 13, 7th grade, Palm Beach County; Ekansh Rastogi, 13, 8th grade, Orange County; and Aaron Kuebler, 12, 6th grade, Orange County. Eliminated were Naresh Ram, 14, 8th grade, Collier County; Bruhat Soma, 10, 5th grade, Hillsborough County; Sam Evans, 14, 8th grade, Duval County; and Jose Garcia, 13, 8th grade, Lee County. Competition resumes today. Scripps National Spelling Bee. Associated Press. WFTX. WMBB.

More on FSA testing: Reports from districts around the state on the results of the 3rd-grade Florida Standards Assessments reading test, which showed that while 53 percent of those students passed the test, only about 25 percent of them are considered “proficient” readers. Florida Phoenix. Flagler Live. WCJB. WJHG.

Around the nation: Texas state police said Tuesday that a Robb Elementary School teacher who had propped open a door to the school shut it before a gunman entered on May 24, but it did not lock for reasons that are being investigated. Nineteen students and two teachers were shot to death by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos. The first two funerals were held Tuesday. Associated Press. The progressive group Run for Something has stepped up its recruitment of like-minded people to run for local school boards as a way of checking the recent push by such groups of Moms for Liberty to find conservatives to run for boards. NPR.

Opinions on schools: Contrary to dire predictions and claims from opponents about choice causing an exodus from public-school systems, participation rates, or “take-up rates,” in private-education choice programs overall does not have a negative effect on public-school systems or their funding. In fact, research suggests that greater take-up in choice programs leads to better student outcomes for the vast majority of students choosing to remain in public schools. Martin Lueken and Michael Castro, Education Next. School dress codes are merely the first stop on the Ruth Project’s mission — and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vision — to build an equitable world for the generations to come. Julia Squitteri, Orlando Sentinel. It is in a fully free, competitive market of education that parents can peacefully choose from a variety and abundance of learning options that best reflect their needs and preferences. In such a world, curriculum battles and school board brawls would be a thing of the past. Kerry McDonald, Foundation for Economic Education. At 17, I am haunted by the notion that my life is on the line the second I enter the classroom. And such is the circumstance of every American student. Claire Rotchford, Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff