DOE asks for $880M budget boost and gets school safety update, metal detectors, budgets and more

Education budget request: The Florida Department of Education is asking legislators to approve a nearly $24 billion budget for the 2023-2024 school year, an increase of about $880 million. About $22.2 billion would be earmarked for public-school and state-college systems, and $1.8 billion would be directed to capital projects. About $800 million would be used to raise teacher salaries, while $250 million is planned for school-safety funding, an increase of $40 million, and mental-health initiatives would get an extra $20 million, to $160 million. Bright Futures scholarships would receive nearly $614.5 million, a decrease of about $6.4 million due to a “workload reduction” in qualifying for the scholarships. “I feel very strongly that there are some really very, very good recommendations in this legislative budget request that continue to move the conversation and focus on school safety forward,” said K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva. The legislative session starts March 7, 2023, and is scheduled to end May 5. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

School safety findings: Department of Education chancellor Jacob Oliva told the state Board of Education on Thursday that both the Miami-Dade and Broward school districts have acted quickly in response to the critical statewide grand jury report recently released. Miami-Dade has ended the use of “success centers” after being slammed for placing students in them who should have been suspended, according to the grand jury. And three Broward administrators who were ordered to resign or be the target of investigations have done so. Reports of results from DOE meetings with Orange, Palm Beach and Duval school officials are still pending, Oliva said. Board member Tom Grady also suggested that Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright should be removed for issues detailed in the grand jury report and for her support for face mask mandates. He was told such an action would fall under the authority of the Broward school board, which hires the superintendent, and current board members have not publicly criticized Cartwright. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. WLRN. Miami Herald.

Around the state: Broward school board members approve spending $6.9 million for metal detectors to use at schools and after-school events, Broward also agrees to an insurance settlement of $21.6 million for the partial roof collapse at a middle school last year, the Leon and Volusia school boards approve budgets for the 2022-2023 school year, the number of teaching openings has grown since August in St. Johns and Clay counties, an Orlando middle school student is missing after his rowing club’s boat capsized during a lightning storm Thursday, and the state Board of Governors have questions for FAMU’s president after student-athletes complained about being neglected and 26 football players were declared ineligible for the first game of the season. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members have agreed to spend $6.9 million for metal detectors to use at district sporting and school events. A three-year contract was awarded to Guardian Professional Security, a company in Plantation, to check bags and people. Metal detectors are also being placed in select schools that will be used for random wanding by school district personnel. Sun-Sentinel. School officials have accepted a $21.6 million settlement from the district’s insurance company for the partial roof collapse last year at James S. Rickards Middle School in Oakland Park. Ten people were injured when the roof caved in because of “a failure of steel anchor bolts.” The district decided to tear down the building and rebuild. It’s expected to reopen in the fall of 2024. Sun-Sentinel. Thursday, the school district launched the school bus tracking app called Here Comes to Bus so parents can follow the locations of their children in real-time from their cell phones. WPLG. WFOR.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: One hundred and seventy-three students from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco schools have been chosen as National Merit Semifinalists. Strawberry Crest High in Hillsborough had the most with 18. Tampa Bay Times. Twenty electric buses are due to arrive in December for Pinellas schools. The district received a $5.5 million grant to buy the buses as part of a state settlement with Volkswagen over emissions violations. St. Pete Catalyst. A 13-year-old student at the North Tampa Success Center has been arrested and accused of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and disruption of a school function. Police said the boy deliberately set a classmate’s sweatshirt on fire while he was wearing it. The victim was not injured. WTVT. WFTS.

Orange: One middle school student is missing and another hospitalized after their boat capsized on an Orlando lake during a storm Thursday. The students are part of the North Orlando Rowing, which was practicing when the storm struck. Several lightning strikes were reported in the area, although it’s unclear if one of them hit the boat or nearby. Three other students were treated for minor injuries. CNN. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH. A student at Olympia High School in Orlando was clocked by sheriff’s deputies going 96 mph in a 45 mph zone near the school Thursday. The boy said he didn’t want to be  late for school. He faces a fine of $1,104 plus court costs. WKMG. WOFL.

Duval, northeast Florida: The number of teacher job openings has gone up since the beginning of the school year in the St. Johns and Clay school districts, and down slightly in Duval, according to officials from the districts. St. Johns started the year with 49 teacher vacancies, but as of last week that number had gone up to 76. The district also has 149 noninstructional job openings. In Clay, the 26 open teaching jobs when school started has grown to 29. Duval started the year with 389 teacher vacancies, and now has 379. WJXT.

Lee: A rash of recent school security issues led Superintendent Christopher Bernier to reach out to parents with a plea to talk to their children and explain the consequences of their behaviors. “Our community priority is the safety, security and education of our students,” Bernier said in an e-mail. “During the past few days, there has been an increase in incidents involving threats made by, and against our students.” Two students had weapons in schools and one school was the target of a threat. Bernier said that behavior won’t be tolerated. “Students involved in this type of action will be disciplined at a school level, but may face serious legal consequences as well,” said Bernier. “Some of these consequences may follow a child into adulthood, impacting their college, career and future.” Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WGCU.

Volusia: A $1.3 billion budget was approved this week by school board members. That’s $190 million higher than it was last year. Among the spending highlights are increasing the starting teacher pay rate to $47,500 and the minimum district hourly wage to $15, allocating nearly $495 million for instruction costs, and $300 million for facilities acquisition and construction. The board also adopted a tax rate of $5.482 for every $1,000 in taxable property value. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: Seventeen of the district’s 23 elementary schools maintained or improved their reading results, according to recent testing. While district officials were pleased with the results, they’ve “added expert curriculum teams and hired a director of early learning/pre-K” to continue making progress, said assistant superintendent Chris Renouf. Teachers are also being provided with supplemental curriculum materials that have been endorsed by the Florida Department of Education. Charlotte Sun.

Leon: School board members approved a $653 million budget this week, which is $87 million more than the district spent last year. Tax rates were dropped from 5.876 mills to 5.468, but tax revenues are up because of increase property valuations and new construction. The fiscal year began July 1. WTXL.

Santa Rosa: The school district’s Teacher Academy program has proven so popular that it has grown from one school last year, Navarre High, to three more this year: Milton, Pace and Central high schools. The goal is to create more home-grown teachers who can return to district schools. “Not only are we preparing future teachers and addressing our internal teacher shortage, but we are also improving literacy in the district,” said Charlin Knight, the district’s director of workforce education. “We recognize that there is a national problem, but here at home in Santa Rosa County, we have to get to work figuring out what we’re going to do to solve our own local problem. This has been a great plan.” Pensacola News Journal.

Charlotte: A $500,000 grant from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission will be used by the district to provide “high-dosage tutoring” to students with low test scores on state tests. Certified, mentor teachers will be paired with students daily with the aim of improving students’ learning in 18 weeks. “High-dosage tutoring is a proven, effective strategy for increasing student outcomes,” said Cheryl Edwards, assistant superintendent of learning. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: Florida’s Board of Governors questioned Florida A&M University president Larry Robinson’s leadership after the school’s student-athletes complained about being neglected and 26 were declared by the NCAA to be ineligible to play the football team’s first game. “What I really see, to be very blunt, is a failure in leadership, because these aren’t new issues in some cases,” board vice chair Eric Silagy told Robinson. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens has enrolled its largest first-year class in 15 years. The 495 freshmen are part of the 1,011 students enrolled, which is about 175 more than the historically black university’s targeted goal of 928. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: As events recent and long ago have reminded me, the world can be an ugly place, people like Sophie Araque-Liu, a 16-year-old student at Martin County High School who recently won a Doodle for Google competition, are trying to make it a little more beautiful, one small corner at a time. Blake Fontenay, TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff