Back-to-school tax holiday begins today, housing proposals, new superintendent, budgets, and more

Around the state: A two-week suspension of sales tax collections on certain back-to-school items begins today and continues for two weeks, several school districts are considering building affordable projects for employees, Taylor County schools’ grants coordinator has been appointed as the school superintendent by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Hillsborough’s pitch for an additional school tax is proving to be a hard sell, several districts have approved tentative budgets, candidates make their pitches for school board elections, and Brevard’s school district names its principal and assistant principal of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Jurors in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz were shown graphic photos of victims during Friday’s court proceedings, and also viewed equally disturbing videos during the week. Defense attorneys have objected to the display, contending they are shown solely to inflame jurors’ emotions, but prosecutors said they demonstrate the cruel nature of Cruz’s attack. Responding law enforcement officers also began testifying Friday, describing the scene as they arrived. Testimony resumes today. Associated PressSun-Sentinel. WSVN. WFOR. Summarizing what happened Friday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis spends part of his days touting the success of the district since his arrival a little more than two years ago. School grades are improved, and the district has been clawing out of a financial hole with staff cuts and other austerity measures. The progress, he argues, merits a vote for an increase in property taxes to raise teacher pay and enhance academic programs. But with inflation soaring locally, overcoming the perception that the district wastes money and shouldn’t get more is a hard sell. “We know we’re in the most difficult times to ask,” Davis said. “But if I don’t ask and do nothing, then what type of leader will I be as the CEO of this organization?” Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas: District 7 school board incumbent Caprice Edmond is being challenged by swim school operator Maria Solanki in the Aug. 23 primary. Solanki, 37, tried unsuccessfully to open a charter school in 2019 emphasizing a plant-based, eco-friendly lifestyle, and said, “I am running for school board because I am sick of all these tyrants and their nonsense.” Edmond, 34, has been a teacher and was elected in 2020 to finish the term of Rene Flowers, who resigned to run for the county commission. Edmond said progress has been made with low-performing schools in her district, “but we can do better.” Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: A Florida Virtual School teacher has filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission alleging that District 1 school board candidate Al Hernandez should be kicked off the Aug. 23 primary ballot because he didn’t live in the district by the June 17 qualifying deadline. Jessica Jecusco said she read about the possible eligibility problem in a newspaper. “There’s nothing about it that seems like he’s going to live there,” she said. “And if he hasn’t lived there, he doesn’t know the locals and their concerns. It just ground my gears.” Hernandez disputes the allegation. The commission will review the complaint and decide if an investigation is warranted. Tampa Bay Times. The state’s new Parental Rights in Education law will require more paperwork for parents, and there will be consequences for failing to do so. For instance, student services director Melissa Musselwhite said health-related services like vision tests for students that were routinely given in the past without a signed form won’t be this year. “If you don’t elect (a choice) under the health pieces, it will automatically default to no,” Musselwhite said, and Superintendent Kurt Browning worries that students who need the services most will lose out. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Blair Lovelace of Coquina Elementary School has been chosen as the district’s principal of the year, and Kelly Grugan of Riviera Elementary was named assistant principal of the year. Both will represent the district in the statewide competition. Jackie Ingratta, principal of Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School, and Heather Smith, assistant principal of Viera High, were the other finalists. Space Coast Daily.

Marion: A record budget of $905 million was tentatively approved last week by school board members. It’s about 21 percent higher than last year’s spending of $746.6 million, thanks largely to about $200 million in federal coronavirus relief funds that has been received or is still expected. Nearly $53 million of the increased spending will go to improve employee salaries. And while the tax rate has been dropped, it will still produce about $22.7 million more because of higher property values. The proposed budget also calls for $71.2 million to be placed in reserves, well over the $27 million required by the state  Ocala Star-Banner.

Alachua: School board members approved a resolution last week to promote gun safety in students’ homes. A letter will be sent to parents explaining the importance of securing and storing a gun properly, in the home, as well as the legal responsibility of parents to keep children from getting access to weapons. “It is a really important step towards reducing the threat of gun violence not only in the schools but unintended shootings in homes and suicide among children and teens,” said Marnie Wiss, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Alachua County. Gainesville Sun. A public records request of materials generated by the investigation of financial records from the district’s Camp Crystal Lake program was heavily redacted, including first names and nicknames, city names, YouTube links and even the rock band Sister Hazel. Some of the redactions “far exceed any boundary possibly conceivable” of a law the district may be citing, said Clay Calvert, director of the University of Florida’s Brechner First Amendment Project. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: The school district’s proposed budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year is about $477 million, which is $28 million less than last year’s. The decline is due to the end of the federal coronavirus relief funds. Susan McCole, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance, said the millage rate is declining from 5.90 mills to 5.56, but still will yield more revenue because of rising property values. Public hearings on the proposed budget are scheduled July 28 and Sept. 8. Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: Three school board races are on the Aug. 23 primary ballot, and the nine candidates all describe what they consider the top issues in the district, funding, the board’s COVID-19 response, and answer questions from the public. In District 1, incumbent Kay Hatch is being challenged by Mark Johnson and Jennifer Lynn Licata. Hernando Sun. Incumbent Jimmy Lodato is running against Shannon Rodriguez in District 3. Hernando Sun. District 5 incumbent Susan Duvall has three challengers: Lara Dedmon, Pam Everett and Monty Floyd. Hernando Sun.

Martin: While three school board seats were up for election this year, only two will be on the ballot because District 1 incumbent and board chair Christia Li Roberts was re-elected automatically when no other candidates qualified. The candidates recently talked about their priorities. In District 3, economist Elizabeth Bernstein and former Christian school administrator Jennifer Russell are competing to replace incumbent Victoria Defenthaler, who decided not to run for re-election. District 4 incumbent Anthony Anderson, a teacher, is being challenged by Amy Pritchett, the co-chair for the local chapter of the Moms for Liberty. TCPalm.

Flagler: School board members have tentatively approved a budget of $201 million for the 2022-2023 school year. About $1.5 million is being transferred from reserves to balance the budget. “We recognize it’s going to be a lean year,” said Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt. The first public hearing is scheduled Aug. 2. Palm Coast Observer. Representatives from the school district and the cities of Palm Coast, Flagler Beach and Bunnell have reached a tentative agreement on a proposed schedule of how developers would pay school mitigation fees. The first third would be paid at the start of the project, the second at the 24-month mark, and the final third at the 48-month mark. The district had proposed 40 percent initially, then 30 percent in each of the second and third years. Now the agreement goes before the involved government agencies for consideration. Flagler Live. District 4 school board incumbent Trevor Tucker is being challenged by Christy Chong in the Aug. 23 primary. Both answer questions about budget cuts, Superintendent Middelstadt’s contract, impact fees, the sales tax and more. Flagler Live. Flagler Live.

Bradford: A preschool employee has been arrested and accused of child abuse for allegedly threatening to choke and slam a 4-year-old student to the ground last August. Deputies said Courtney Jones, who worked at the Bradford Preschool and Learning Center, was recorded on video taken by another employee. Last month, the Department of Children and Families suspended the preschool’s license. WJXT.

Taylor: The grants coordinator for the school district has been appointed school superintendent by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Alicia Beshears, who has also been a teacher and assistant principal, will replace Danny Glover, who resigned last October. After Glover announced he was leaving, the district hired an outside investigator who determined there was probable cause to conclude that Glover violated the school board’s harassment policy against a coworker. WTXL. WCTV.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The state’s annual back-to-school tax holiday starts today and continues through Aug. 7. Eligible items include clothing, footwear, and some accessories with a sales price of $100 or less per item, school supplies under $50 per item, learning aids and jigsaw puzzles costing $30 or less, and personal computers and certain accessories with a sales price of $1,500 or less. USA Today Florida Network. Palm Beach Post. Florida Politics.

Health risks in schools reopening: Another school year is about to start, and again it’s accompanied by an increase in the number of COVID cases, as well as outbreaks of meningococcal disease and the monkeypox virus. Many educators and health professionals said their options to protect students have been limited by new state laws. Florida Phoenix.

Schools and affordable housing: Soaring housing costs are increasingly pricing teachers out of the market, leading some Florida school districts to consider building their own affordable housing projects for employees. “That’s going to be an opportunity for our employees to save a tremendous amount of money, but also be able to give them a perk,” said Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis. “We’ve got to find proactive solutions that are attractors.” WFTS.

Around the nation: Some U.S. school districts are choosing to build new schools with gender-neutral bathrooms that have individual toilet rooms as a way to deal with the controversy over what bathrooms transgender students use. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: The Miami-Dade County School Board’s decision to remove a sex education textbook after complaints from an advocacy group leads me to ask: Which parents are being heard? Certainly not the majority, as survey after survey tell us that most parents in America — 89 percent according to a recent National Institutes of Health study — support some kind of sex education, regardless of political affiliation. Lauren Costantino, Miami Herald.

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