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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Gradebook podcast: Textbook challenges, new laws, school grades and more

A committee of parents and school officials reviewed whether a challenged novel should remain in Pasco Middle School in 2016. Under new law, any county resident would be able to challenge titles used in the public schools.

Times (2016)

A committee of parents and school officials reviewed whether a challenged novel should remain in Pasco Middle School in 2016. Under new law, any county resident would be able to challenge titles used in the public schools.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law HB 989, expanding county residents' ability to challenge public school textbooks and instructional materials. The bill arose from Collier County, where book battles often arise. Parent Michelle Groenings, who has served on the district's instructional materials review committee, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her concerns with the new law, and how things have played out in her home district. Solochek also talks about other new laws Scott signed, and the school grades released on Wednesday.

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Sen. Gary Farmer 'pretty confident' legal challenge to HB 7069 will come

State Sen. Gary Farmer

Courtesy photo

State Sen. Gary Farmer

As his hometown school district contemplates leading the charge, state Sen. Gary Farmer is sounding more certain that the Florida Legislature's controversial education conforming bill (HB 7069) will land in court.

"I've been meeting and talking to various folks in the education field, and also speaking to some attorneys," said Farmer, a Broward County Democrat and trial lawyer who has spearheaded opposition to the measure. "I feel pretty confident there's going to be a legal challenge filed."

While time is of the essence — the law with its myriad rules takes effect Saturday, with school districts scrambling to implement portions in time for classes that start in August — more research remains, Farmer said.

One of the key concerns is finding someone who has standing to file the suit. In several past education cases, courts have found the complainants (often the Florida Education Association) to lack a legal right to sue. So determining who is affected matters, whether it's a taxpayer, student or even Farmer himself as the lawmaker who questioned the Senate's process for adopting the bill and then voted against it. …

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Florida education news: Turnarounds, teacher pay, drug testing and more

Kristy Moody, the new principal of Fairmount Park Elementary, sometimes visited kindergarten just to feel the joy.

Dirk Shadd | Times

Kristy Moody, the new principal of Fairmount Park Elementary, sometimes visited kindergarten just to feel the joy.

FAILURE FACTORIES: Principal Kristy Moody had a tough job, trying to turn around persistently low performing Fairmount Park Elementary School in south St. Petersburg. This is her school's story

LABOR NEWS: Hillsborough County school district officials warn teacher representatives during contract talks that district finances are "dire" and its pay plan is under scrutiny. • The Orange County teachers union and school district agree on raises for the new year, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

EVALUATIONS: The Citrus County School Board moves to eliminate VAM from it teacher performance reviews.

TAKE THIS CUP: The Monroe County School Board reinstates random drug testing for high school students who participate in sports and related activities, the Keynoter reports.

#HB7069: The Broward County School Board is considering whether to sue the state over the HB 7069 requirement that it share its capital projects tax revenue with charter schools, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Attorneys from Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas school districts were in on the conversation. • State data show that charter schools stand to receive $96 million overall, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Redirect Florida's class size reduction funds, business group recommends

Times (2010)

Since its implementation in 2003-04, Florida's class size amendment has cost nearly $37 billion in construction and operating expenses. The average annual investment since 2010, most of it funding operations such as hiring enough teachers, has been right at $3 billion.

And that's too much, the Florida Council of 100 argues.

In its new Horizons 2040 proposal, released Thursday, the group of business leaders calls for the money to be spent differently, on education programs it sees as more beneficial. Those include:

- Extending the state's prekindergarten program to 3-year-olds. It currently is offered to 4-year-olds only. The plan includes shrinking class sizes in prekindergarten through third grade, where research suggests it has the most influence.

- Paying for top teachers with increased, nationally competitive wages. Added training also would be available.

- Investing in the expanded use of classroom technology. …

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My Florida school got an 'I' grade. What does that mean?

Florida Department of Education

The unexpected release of Florida school grades on Wednesday prompted celebrations among the educators who saw improvements and soul searching among those who didn't.

It also raised a question for people associated with 101 schools on the list: Why did their school receive an "incomplete"?

We contacted the Florida Department of Education, seeking an explanation for each school on the list. A spokeswoman declined to answer, citing the Florida law that keeps testing investigations confidential and exempt from public release until the investigation is complete. 

How is that relevant, you ask?

Because a school gets an "I" for one of only two reasons. Either it did not test at least 95 percent of eligible students, or it is under review because of allegations that test security or administration was compromised, raising concerns of its validity or integrity.

In the past, most of the "Incompletes" have arisen because of the percent tested. But there have been some of the test security concerns, and the department does not want to tip its hand. …

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Citrus County School Board pushes to eliminate VAM from teacher evaluations

Florida Department of Education

One of the measures in HB 7069 that many of its critics supported was the provision allowing Florida school boards to stop using the state's value-added modeling in teacher evaluations.

The complicated formula (shown above), which doesn't apply to all teachers, had been subject to criticism as unproven "junk science" and worse. Its stated goal is to show how well a teacher contributes to a student's academic performance. Its results then contributed to decisions on raises, continued employment and more.

As soon as possible after Gov. Scott eliminated the requirement, leaving districts to decide on their own, Citrus County School Board member Thomas Kennedy asked his colleagues to dump VAM.

"I have opposed VAM and the use to students' grade being tied to teachers' salaries, bonuses and steps from the beginning," Kennedy explained on his blog. "There was unanimous support of the entire board."

Superintendent Sam Himmel has her staff looking into alternatives, as the district is not absolved from using student performance data in evaluations. 

"This will not be an overnight process as policy revisions never are, but the change has now begun," Kennedy wrote. …

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Florida education news: School grades, teacher pay, transgender lawsuit and more

Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates her school's A grade with students in a summer program at the school.

Cherie Diez | Times

Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates her school's A grade with students in a summer program at the school.

SCHOOL GRADES: Florida's school grades showed improvement as the state's revised accountability system entered its third year in its current form. Reactions ranged from celebration to criticism of a system that relies too heavily on test results. "The driving factor to school grades is poverty," Santa Rosa County superintendent Tim Wyrosdick told the Pensacola News-Journal. "Poverty is the single-most influencing factor in a student's success. So therefore, it's the single-most influencing factor in a school's success." • Six charter schools face closure because of their grades, Redefined reports. • Visit the Florida Department of Education website for individual school data. • Most news media had some type of local coverage. Here's a sampling from the Sun-Sentinel, Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, the Ledger, Ocala Star-Banner, Orlando Sentinel 

LABOR NEWS: Hillsborough County teachers return to the bargaining table with a battle over pay expected. • Pasco County's superintendent says there's "not a lot of hope" for employee raises in their next contract. • The Volusia County School Board approves a new employee pay schedule, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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Teacher bargaining begins in Hillsborough

Superintendent Jeff Eakins greeting teachers at a training event in 2015


Superintendent Jeff Eakins greeting teachers at a training event in 2015

Negotiating will begin Thursday for nearly 20,000 workers represented by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

And it could get interesting.

Teachers have been saying, loudly and on social media, that they expect nothing less than the pay plan the district rolled out as it implemented the 2009 Gates Foundation reforms. That pay plan, which took effect in 2013, calls for $4,000 raises every three years to teachers who are graded at least satisfactory, which is almost always the case.

No one has announced any intention to back away from that system.

But, in remarks here and there, Superintendente Jeff Eakins and members of the School Board have said Hillsborough teachers out-earn teachers in neighboring counties after a decade or more of experience. They've also voiced concerns about the budget, and the term "freeze salaries" has made its way into conversations.

The union will likely argue that Hillsborough's teachers work hard under often difficult conditions, that it's in the best interest of students to pay teachers a professional wage, and that there are other places where the district could cut costs instead. …

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Florida issues school grades: F's down, A's and B's up

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart

Florida Department of Education

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart

Florida's school grades showed marked improvement in 2016-17, according to the results released Wednesday morning.

The number of F schools fell by 61 percent, to 43, with 79 percent of schools earning F a year ago increasing by at least one grade level. The percentage of Florida's schools receiving an A or B hit 57 percent, or 1,834, up from 46 percent a year ago.

Among notable results in the Tampa Bay area, Melrose Elementary in Pinellas County -- the state's lowest performing school three years ago -- earned a C. Two Pasco County schools that received F's a year ago, Calusa and Hudson elementary schools, improved to C's as well.

The grading system uses 11 criteria, including learning gains and proficiency levels. It is essentially unchanged from a year ago. …

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Raises in doubt for Pasco County school employees, superintendent says

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning says the district might not be able to offer raises in 2017-18.

Times (2016)

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning says the district might not be able to offer raises in 2017-18.

In crafting a budget plan for the new fiscal year, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning is sounding a much different message than in years past.

He's not talking about increasing salaries, though he says he would like to.

"The first blush is, there's not a lot of hope of having the dollars to provide raises this year," Browning told the Gradebook. 

After accounting for growth and rising price tags for insurance, retirement benefits, utilities and other fixed costs, he said, "We don't have any money." The district finance team is still looking for ways to bring spending in line with anticipated revenue, with a gap of about $750,000 remaining.

Browning noted that the Legislature approved $1,200 one-time bonuses for teachers earning a "highly effective" evaluation rating, and up to $800 for those deemed "effective." Lawmakers also continued the Best and Brightest bonus, based on college entry test scores and evaluations, of up to $6,000, a reduction from the past two years.

Principals also can receive Best and Brightest, too, based on how many teachers they have on faculty earning the award. …

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Florida education news: Athletic trainers, signing bonuses, student vaccinations and more

Times (2013)

SAFETY FIRST: Pasco County school district leaders decide to retain high school athletic trainers, which had been slated for elimination, amid pleas from parents, students and teachers. "I'm going to find (the money) and we're going to make it work," superintendent Kurt Browning said. "I think it's important."

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP: New principals are named for some Hillsborough and Pinellas county schools.

VACANCY: Two Florida Board of Education seats remain unfilled six months after they came open.

NOW HIRING: The Manatee School for the Arts charter school offers big signing bonuses to teachers deemed "high impact" by the state, the Bradenton Herald reports. • The St. Johns County school district is struggling to find bus drivers, the St. Augustine Record reports. • The Citrus County school district imposes a temporary hiring freeze, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

COLLEGE CUTS: Florida's state colleges face a budget reduction, and leaders anticipate a year of "stagnation," the News Service of Florida reports. • Broward College plans to increase class sizes and cut vacant jobs to cope, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Pasco County high schools will have athletic trainers, superintendent says

Times (2010)

With concerns mounting that student-athletes won't get proper treatment if injured, Pasco County school district leaders have decided to pay for athletic trainers at all high school sports events in 2017-18.

The move could add about $125,000 to the district's anticipated funding shortfall, which was listed at $627,855 on June 20, the most recent estimate available. But superintendent Kurt Browning said Tuesday that the expense is worth it.

"We are going to fund athletic trainers," he said. "I'm going to find (the money) and we're going to make it work. I think it's important."

Browning has assigned district athletic director Matt Wicks to work with a different provider to bring the trainers to the schools. The district had worked with Florida Hospital, which paid for the service until canceling its contract at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Parents got word of the loss, and recently began a campaign to reinstate the trainer program. Browning initially told each writer that he was looking for a way to pay for the service, but the tight budget would make it tough. …

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A new principal in Sulphur Springs K-8

Who will fill Julie Scardino's shoes at Sulphur Springs K-8 School?

The Hillsborough district went all the way to Chicago to replace her.

Chantel Angeletti comes from Byrne Elementary School, where she has worked since 2015.

Before that she worked as a lead teacher, instructional support leader and assistant principal at schools in Chicago.

Scardino is now the principal of Egypt Lake Elementary

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Principal changes in Pinellas

The Pinellas County School Board approved a couple principal changes at its meeting Tuesday.

Anthony Francois, assistant principal at John Hopkins Middle School, will become principal of Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School, effective Saturday. He has worked in the school district since 2010. Kristina Bauman, principal of Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary, will take over Sandy Lane Elementary. The change also is effective Saturday.

The superintendent makes personnel recommendations. School board members can only vote against the moves for "good cause," such as if the person is unqualified.


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Two Florida Board of Education seats remain open after six months

Former Florida Board of Education vice chairman John Padget attended his final board meeting in December 2016.

Associated Press

Former Florida Board of Education vice chairman John Padget attended his final board meeting in December 2016.

Between bill signings and economic development trips, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has made time for appointments to a variety of government posts from chief finance officer to boxing commissioner.

While declaring the importance of a "world-class education," Scott nonetheless has not named anyone to fill two open seats on the Florida Board of Education.

The board -- which faces important pending decisions such as setting rules for charter school appeals and approving new concordant scores for state tests -- has met since January without former member John Padget, whose second term expired and was not eligible for a third. Member Michael Olenick's first term also ended in December, but he continues to serve until replaced or reappointed.

A spokeswoman for Scott's office said the governor continues to accept applications for the positions, but has set no time frame for making a choice.

The board next meets July 17 in Tallahassee.

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