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. …
"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. …
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."
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.
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.
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.
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: …
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.
Workers continue to prepare the exterior of Bexley Elementary, which has not been open to students or parents yet.
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." …
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. …
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.
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." …
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. …
Gradebook features education articles and insights on schools in Florida, focusing on Tampa Bay area schools. What's the latest from the Florida Department of Education? How is the FCAT being used to compare Florida schools? What's going on in Tampa Bay schools? Get an insider's view from the Times education reporting team.