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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Gov. Rick Scott signs several education bills into Florida law

Gov. Rick Scott

File photo

Gov. Rick Scott

Just days before the deadline, Gov. Rick Scott signed seven education bills into Florida law on Monday. They included the Florida Education Finance Program that boosted per student funding by $100 after a contentious special session, the expansion of the state's Gardiner and tax credit scholarships that assist students attending private schools, and a revision of rules for how parents and other county residents can challenge public school instructional materials.

The bills are: HB 3A (FEFP), HB 15 (school choice), HB 989 (instructional materials), HB 1109 (private school student participation in public school extracurriculars), HB 781 (school grades), HB 1239 (school bus safety), and HB 899 (transitional education programs).

Scott issued a statement touting the increased funding:  …

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Robert E. Lee Elementary Take II

This gentleman did not speak at the last Hillsborough County School Board meeting, just observed as others debated the suitability of Robert E. Lee as a name for an elementary school.

MARLENE SOKOL | Times

This gentleman did not speak at the last Hillsborough County School Board meeting, just observed as others debated the suitability of Robert E. Lee as a name for an elementary school.

Near the end of Tuesday's 3 p.m. School Board meeting, there could be another discussion of Robert E. Lee Elementary, a predominantly African American school in Tampa Heights that is named for a Civil War Confederate general.

The school renaming issue is on the agenda as an information item. The applicable district policies - including the one that makes renaming a school an 18-month process -- are here.

Other than that, it's a fairly short agenda. A new principal will be named for Sulphur Springs K-8 school to replace Julie Scardino, who was transferred to Egypt Lake Elementary. 

The Times will live-tweet.

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Pasco County school district unveils two newest schools

Bexley Elementary principal Vicki Wolin shows where students will collaborate in open space between classrooms.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Bexley Elementary principal Vicki Wolin shows where students will collaborate in open space between classrooms.

Pasco County School Board members got a sneak peek Monday at the district's two newest schools — Bexley Elementary School in Odessa and Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel.

Throughout the tour, officials stressed their ability to create durable, high-quality buildings frugally.

Bexley Elementary, the county's biggest elementary school in terms of capacity, is budgeted at $25 million. Cypress Creek Middle-High, built with tilt-wall construction, hurricane hardened, and prepared for an adjacent middle school, is budgeted at $61 million.

"We've kind of been bused about these Taj Mahals we're building," superintendent Kurt Browning said, taking a jab at lawmakers' suggestions that school districts are spending too much money on construction at the expense of education. "It's amazing what a coat of paint will do." …

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Gibson, what it means so far

In response to questions asked at last week's Hillsborough County School Board budget workshop, the administsration issued this report on what it has done so far to implement recommendations from the Gibson Consulting Group.

The three reports covered a lot of ground, and some areas show more progress than others.

Hillsborough has tackled many of the issues outlined in Phase I of the report. Dozens of clerical jobs were moved from the downtown headquarters to the schools. Work is beginning to adjust the hours of custodial workers. "Courtesy busing" within two miles of the schools is being cut back, beginning this year with middle and high schools. Bell schedules will change in 2018 with the goal of allowing each bus to serve three schools.

That's the good news.

Some recommendations to cut costs in transportation are hard to implement because of work rules negotiated with their union; and driver shortages, which drive overtime costs up. "Outside experts" are providing advice on how to modernize the payroll and accounting systems. …

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Teacher hiring freeze is lifted in Hillsborough

Teachers, come work in Hillsborough County!

A teacher hiring freeze, imposed eary this month so the district could take stock of which vacancies it needed to fill, has been lifted, effective Tuesday, Superintendent Jeff Eakins said Monday.

But that only goes for classroom vacancies. Vacancies outside the classroom are still frozen. And bus driver hiring never stopped.

About 500 jobs are affected by Monday's decision. "We want to ensure we are focusing on the classroom and that our students have the best teachers in front of them on the first day of school," Eakins said.

A total of 1,000 jobs had been frozen in recent weeks. At a board workshop last week, Eakins said in that time officials identified 100 that could be eliminated for good. The largest numbers of the teaching jobs were in special education, at high-poverty schools, or both.

Classes resume on Aug. 10. 

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Parent demand mounts for athletic trainers at Pasco County schools

Pasco County parents are trying to get athletic trainers returned to area high schools.

Times file photo

Pasco County parents are trying to get athletic trainers returned to area high schools.

Ever since word hit in May that Pasco County high schools would lose their athletic trainers, parents have agitated to keep the service intact.

Several cited individual stories about teens who were protected from aggravated injuries, and assisted when hurt, to illustrate the value of the trainers.

"I don't think we have a choice in this matter," Land O'Lakes Touchdown Club president Rick Geiger wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning. "God forbid, a student athlete suffers a catastrophic injury at a school athletic event or even worse. With all the concerns over safety, providing the best care for our students and our comment that student safety is first and foremost the priority for the District, how can this situation remain unresolved?"

His was one of dozens of emails sent to district leaders in the past two weeks, as part of a targeted campaign to influence the budget conversation.

Browning has responded to as many as possible, alerting the parents that the district received the services for free and that the provider ended the agreement.

"We are trying to find the funds to pick up these trainers," he wrote. "It is an extremely tight budget year." …

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How important will education policy be in Florida's 2018 election cycle?

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson campaigns against the education policies of Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Times file photo

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson campaigns against the education policies of Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The recent fight over Florida's education budget and conforming bill (HB 7069) looks likely to carry over into the 2018 election campaign, with some of the state's most high-profilie politicians already fashioning pointed messages on the issue.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the driving force behind HB 7069, suggested on Twitter that the measure will loom large over the elections.

The bill is virtually 100% public school funding. It will be an issue in 2018. A referendum on who cares more about low income education! https://t.co/MEUQPyGISV

Corcoran, considered a possible candidate for governor, also has launched a social media survey asking: "When it comes to funding schools, should money go to where students are or go to existing facilities regardless of where students are?" The responses have come from all sides, and the rhetoric has gotten pretty accusatory.

The speaker isn't alone in highlighting the issue as key for Floridians. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat facing a likely challenge from term-limted Gov. Rick Scott, recently sent out an email donation request that focused on education. …

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Florida education news: Guns, charter schools, drug education and more

Times file photo

HOSTILE WORK PLACE: A legal review determines that while a University of South Florida technology center former director might have been boorish and hostile, none of his actions rose to the level of illegality.

SCHOOL SAFETY: A Duval County School Board member wants his district to seek charges against parents of children who bring guns to school, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Some Volusia County School Board members question state charter school rules as they prepare to extend the contract for one in their district, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Leon County school district considers asking voters to approve a local sales tax to offset its sharing of capital project tax revenue with charter schools, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

DARE: Lake County deputies will resume drug education in the schools four years after it was dropped for budget concerns, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TURNAROUNDS: Five Polk County schools that face possible closure if they don't earn a C or better anxiously await their state grades, the Ledger reports. 

NEW RULES: Florida schools face a variety of new requirements on July 1, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Life after HB7069 to be discussed at Pinellas school district workshop

The Pinellas County school district is still trying to navigate life after the controversial passage of HB7069.

The aftermath of the bill will be a central point of discussion at Tuesday's double-header of a 10 a.m. Pinellas County School Board meeting, followed by a board workshop scheduled for 1 p.m.

Board members and district officials will pore over a working budget for the 2017-18 school year, which is $30 million lighter in funds allocated for construction and renovation projects. As the new bill requires, that money will instead be doled out to charter schools over five years.

Which schools will be affected has not yet been determined. It will not disturb the school district's recent decision to turn to the bond market to fund projects, said deputy superintendent Bill Corbett.

Nor will it affect recruitment and retention bonuses promised for teachers in turnaround schools. Those bonuses for teachers in 15 designated schools are funded by Title I, Title II and Supplemental Academic Instruction dollars, however HB7069 shakes up how Title I dollars can be used. …

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Florida education news in review, week of June 18, 2017

The Florida Constitution Review Commission might weigh in on whether state education funding follows students, or pays for a system of public schools.

WMFE

The Florida Constitution Review Commission might weigh in on whether state education funding follows students, or pays for a system of public schools.

Some pretty big education policy questions emerged during the Florida legislative session, perhaps none bigger than whether funding should "follow the students" or pay for a public school system. With all the talk of per-student funding, the answer might seem pretty clear. But it's not. Rhetoric aside, the state constitution and case law create a scenario that likely will bring the issue before the Constitution Revision Commission for clarification.

Then there's the issue of the teaching profession. Lawmakers did more to limit job guarantees for educators already on annual contracts. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that applications to Florida's colleges of education are down about 40 percent. That story has resonated across the state, too.

There's been other news, as well. Catch up on the week's highlights below. You can keep up with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who'd like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to jsolochek@tampabay.com. {Photo credit link: WMFE} …

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Gradebook podcast: Charter school fraud, budget woes and more

Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin has been asking pointed questions about the district's budget.

Times file photo

Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin has been asking pointed questions about the district's budget.

School districts across Florida have been grappling with financial concerns they contend lawmakers did not improve with a new state education budget. Reporter Marlene Sokol joins reporter Jeff Solochek to discuss the problems as they're manifest in Hillsborough County, which has local woes beyond anything the state has done.

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Florida School Boards Association selects new leadership

Alachua County School Board member April Griffin speaks to the Florida School Boards Association summer conference.

FSBA

Alachua County School Board member April Griffin speaks to the Florida School Boards Association summer conference.

Saying Florida's education issues require a fresh approach, Alachua County School Board member April Griffin has taken over as the new president of the Florida School Boards Association.

"By the end of this year I am hoping that we will begin changing the conversation, looking forward, and finding solutions instead of excuses," Griffin said at the organization's recent summer conference in Tampa.

She appointed new committee chairs for the group, which represents the majority of Florida's 67 school boards. Notably, Pinellas County board member Carol Cook no longer will serve as the Legislative Committee chair, a post she has held for years.

Cook lately has been helping with FSBA board training activities, and that work has been increasing. Her effort there took her out of the legislative loop.

"I really thought I need to put my time and energy into that," Cook said. She added that she intended to stay active during the legislative session, but that different voices might help.

"You need new blood sometimes to move it along,' Cook said. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, traveling man, lunch prices and more

Thousands of children attend Florida charter schools, which are growing in number and now stand to receive capital projects local tax revenue.

Times file photo

Thousands of children attend Florida charter schools, which are growing in number and now stand to receive capital projects local tax revenue.

#HB7069: Now that it's law, HB 7069 has a new target on its back: Will it be challenged in court? Broward County Democrat Sen. Gary Farmer says he's doing all he can "to make sure this bad piece of legislation is not going to harm our public schools." It's not just the Dems who are agitating. Bay County Republican Sen. George Gainer, who reluctantly voted for the measure, argues that without meaningful changes — particularly in the charter school realm — trouble is looming for public education. The social media response to Farmer, who opposed the bill, has been largely positive. To Gainer, not so much. An example: "too many people who supported the bill now express concerns. Where were you when we needed you." Who else is noticing? Ratings agencies. Moody's has called the bill's capital funds sharing plan "credit negative" for districts with large numbers of charter schools, the News Service of Florida reports.

NEW HORIZONS: A Hillsborough County high school assistant principal resigns his post to travel. He's 32, without family. "I always told people, 'Never delay something you really want to do.' Now that applies to me," Scott Hazlett explains. …

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Fix inequitable treatment between charter, traditional schools, Sen. Gainer says

Sen. George Gainer

Sen. George Gainer

Sen. George Gainer, a Panama City Republican, was expected to oppose HB 7069 in the state Senate's final vote. He spoke against the imbalance of treatment between charter schools and traditional public schools during that debate, and said he wouldn't take much more special favors for charters.

In the end, he backed the bill but said he would take the issue under greater consideration going forward. This week, he told MaryEllen Klas of the Times-Herald Tallahassee bureau that without fixes, problems lie ahead:

Gainer said he remains "very much a fan of the governor," however, he adds to Kelley's warning that that if lawmakers don't return next session to fix the inequitable treatment between charter and traditional schools "we're all in trouble."

He said his reluctant vote for HB 7069 "is not a vote I'm proud of...They gave the charter schools more than they should have. The bill was a take-it or leave-it deal. It came like a thunder-cloud, then lightening struck, and it was over."

Gainer also has regrets. …

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Sarasota school leader named Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year

Dr. Rachel Shelley, center, is Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year.

Florida Department of Education

Dr. Rachel Shelley, center, is Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year.

The principal of Booker High School in Sarasota was named Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year during a Wednesday celebration.

Rachel Shelley, who took over Booker High in 2011, received the honor for being a hands-on instructional leader who values the use of data in making decisions, but also a relationship-based leader who works with individual students and staff to get the best from them.

"School leaders set the tone for educators, students, parents, and community members, and they are integral to student success," education commissioner Pam Stewart said in a news release.

Kevin Hendricks, principal of Northeast High in Pinellas County, also was a finalist.

A growing body of research highlights the importance of principals in their schools' performance.

"We need to take more seriously that school leadership really matters," said Jason Grissom, an associate professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University who has studied the subject.

Read more on the subject here.

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