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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hearing dates shuffled for Pasco County school rezoning complaints

Meetings on Pasco County school rezoning proposals drew large and often upset crowds from the outset in fall 2016.

Times file photo

Meetings on Pasco County school rezoning proposals drew large and often upset crowds from the outset in fall 2016.

East Pasco County parents fighting their school district's vote to redraw area attendance zones will have to wait a little longer to make their formal case.

A similar case stemming from a west Pasco rezoning will get heard first. And because all involved anticipate the testimony will take longer than the one day set aside for a Division of Administrative Hearings session, the east side arguments will be delayed at least a week.

In a Wednesday status conference, lawyers for the two the sides agreed that a Division of Administrative Hearings judge should hear each presentation in its entirety, rather than take up one set of facts on Monday and another on Tuesday, most likely without concluding either.

As a result, the west Pasco case, which was filed first and was scheduled for Monday, will continue into Tuesday, when the east Pasco case had been set. The east side case will be rescheduled for either March 6-7, March 15-16 or March 20-21, School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said. It will depend on when all parties are available.

"There was a recognition there was too much to handle in one day," Alfonso explained Thursday, before heading into a round of depositions on the case. …

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Florida education news: Machetes, tuition, laptops and more

RENOVATIONS: The Pinellas County School Board pledges nearly $9 million to the renovation of Lakewood High School.

SCHOOL SAFETY: A Lakewood High School student is arrested after authorities discover a 28-inch machete in his trombone case at school.

COLLEGE COSTS: The children of Florida farm workers could gain access to 50 fully paid college tuition scholarships under a proposal in the Florida Senate.

TESTING: Bay County education leaders raise questions about the viability of testing legislation proposed in Tallahassee, the Panama City News Herald reports. • Manatee County schools see increased participation in Advanced Placement courses, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: A Florida House member files a bill to expand the state's voucher-like programs, the News Service of Florida reports.

FUNDING: Gulf County voters will decide whether to extend their local property tax that supports school operations, the Port St. Joe Star reports.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE: An Alachua County teacher relies on the insights of disciplined students to figure out how to improve classroom interactions, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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House Speaker Richard Corcoran on tax increase for schools: 'Hell no'

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has two simple words for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate on taxes and spending: "Hell, no."

Corcoran says he won't compromise on the question of whether the Legislature should write a budget that includes nearly $500 million more in local property taxes from Florida homeowners to hit Scott's target of a K-12 spending increase, under a program known as required local effort. Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, don't consider that a tax increase because the property tax rate would stay the same. The extra money would come from rising property values paid by homeowners and businesses.

Corcoran pointed out in an interview that on the same issue last year, Scott and senators both took the opposite position and took credit for a tax cut by rolling back the required local effort millage rate so that the amount of tax revenue collected for schools did not increase (state tax revenue made up the difference, and if that's the case again this year, Scott can kiss his proposed package of $618 million goodbye). …

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Pasco County school workers' contract talks head to special hearing

Teachers and bus drivers decked out in red filled the Pasco County School Board meeting Tuesday, urging the board to offer better pay raises in advance of scheduled special magistrate hearings on stalled contract talks.

The session on school-related employee contracts is scheduled for Feb, 28, with the one on teacher contracts set for March 7. Money remains a major sticking point.

Speaking to the board, the workers made that point abundantly clear.

"In the last 15 years, my pay hasn't changed by more than $3,000. That is a hardship," teacher Janet Tolson told the board. "I am approaching retirement. I am approximately 20 percent behind the surrounding counties."

The district has given raises in the past three years. Still, Tolson noted, state data reveals that Pasco is 20th in average teacher tenure, yet 54th in average teacher pay. The district's instructional salary schedule shows that a first-year educator makes $38,120 annually, while a twelfth-year teacher makes $41,110 -- less than $3,000 more.

Bus drivers said the situation is worse for them and other non-instructional staff. Bus drivers make just over $15 an hour, and generally do not work 8-hour days.  …

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Florida lawmakers seek reduction of federal Title I, IDEA rules

State Rep. Bob Cortes discusses a bill to urge Congress to convert Title I funding into block grants Tuesday.

The Florida Channel

State Rep. Bob Cortes discusses a bill to urge Congress to convert Title I funding into block grants Tuesday.

For its first bill of the 2017 session, the Florida House Education Committee decided to focus on fighting federal regulations rather than on testing, recess or other matters that have dominated discussion throughout the state.

"We're going to boldly go where no man has gone before," vice chairman Rep. Bob Cortes said, riffing on the fact that the committee bill number 1701 matched the registry number of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek.

Cortes observed that the measure, a memorial urging the U.S. Congress to convert Title I and IDEA funds into block grants, would hold no force of law. It would, however, show the strong sense of Florida lawmakers that the federal government has too much influence over the way the state and school districts spend the money aimed at helping low income and special needs students.

The $772 million Florida receives in federal money, compared to its $20 billion overall education budget, "is really not justifying the level of scrutiny we're seeing," Cortes said. …

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USF President Genshaft honored for advancement of women in higher education

USF System President Judy Genshaft

Times files

USF System President Judy Genshaft

For her long-term efforts to advance women in higher education, President Judy Genshaft of the University of South Florida System has won a prestigious recognition from the American Council on Education.

The annual Donna Shavlik Award, named for a long-serving ACE director, honors those who make helping women in higher education a priority, through leadership, career development, mentoring and campus climate.

“Judy Genshaft has worked tirelessly and effectively to develop the next generation of women leaders,” ACE President Molly Corbett Broad said in a news release. “She is an inspiring role model and frequent mentor through her own achievements and her sustained commitment to creating paths to success for so many others.”

Genshaft will receive the award in March at ACE’s 99th annual meeting. As the major coordinating body for American higher education institutions, the group represents nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and associations and works to influence public policy.

ACE highlighted USF’s rapid growth under Genshaft’s leadership since 2000, particularly its burgeoning reputation for academics, research and innovation. …

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Florida education news: School zones, recess, alternative programs and more

SCHOOL ZONES: The Hillsborough County School Board discusses the need to reexamine all school attendance boundaries and make adjustments to rebalance enrollment. • The Palm Beach County School Board prepares to vote on attendance zone changes, the Palm Beach Post reports.

OUT OF STATE: Hernando County School Board member Susan Duval attends most board meetings remotely as she tends to her ill daughter in Connecticut.

RECESS: A bill to mandate 20 minutes of daily elementary school recess clears its first Florida Senate committee, where it couldn't even get heard a year ago, the Miami Herald reports. More from the St. Augustine Record.

ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS: Some Florida schools use alternative programs as dumping zones for students unlikely to perform well in accountability measures, USA Today/ProPublica reports.

TESTING: Florida ranks fourth nationally in the percentage of high school students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Pasco County School Board to look into midyear principal transfers

Some Pasco County parents continued Tuesday to complain about the unexpected, quick removal of principals from their schools this week.

"Our school has gone from meh to excellent in the past four years," parent Lynn Moses said of Seven Springs Middle School. "I'm terribly disappointed that we've been told the borders of our school would be changing and ... we're losing our very fine principal."

School Board members heard the concerns, and suggested the district take a closer look at its rules governing midyear principal transfers. They acknowledged they cannot simply overturn an employee move, barring good cause.

Still, board member Steve Luikart lamented that the district has told teachers they can't change jobs without having a qualified replacement secured, "yet we as district transfer folks from the administrative ranks whenever we want to."

A retired assistant principal, Luikart added that a school leader significantly impacts the campus morale and culture, and removing one so close to testing season might have adverse effects. He asked for staff to study how other school districts deal with principal transfers, for possible ideas to improve Pasco's procedures. …

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Pasco County school district ponders student early release days

Concerns that teachers aren't getting enough time to prepare for tougher academic standards and new instructional shifts have prompted Pasco County school district leaders to explore adding regular early release or late start days to the academic calendar.

Still in preliminary stages of review, the idea would go into effect in 2018-19 if district leaders find the potential benefits outweigh the detriments. They'll be surveying principals, teachers and parents, as well as studying districts such as Hillsborough and Manatee that already have early release days in effect.

Assistant superintendent Vanessa Hilton told School Board members that the staff is considering the idea in order to provide common professional development time for teachers, and to reduce the cost of substitutes to get that training done.

"The reason why we would even bother to study this is, we've received lots of inquiries from our schools," Hilton said.

Several issues would need to be resolved before the district could make this move, she noted, including how it would affect student transportation, teacher contracts and other matters. She asked the board for its general support before moving forward. …

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Florida Department of Education looks at tougher passing scores for alternate tests

High school juniors and seniors who haven't yet passed their exit-level language arts Florida Standards Assessment get another crack at the test at the end of this month.

Their chance to retake any failed Algebra I end-of-course exam comes in March.

They might think hard about if and when they want to take one of the state's approved alternate tests, which they can substitute for the state ones as graduation requirements if they score high enough. Because the Department of Education is taking a look at making the passing "concordant" scores higher.

The state also is studying whether the ACT and SAT remain adequate substitutes for the language arts FSA, and the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test is still a good proxy for the Algebra I EOC.

Until any changes are announced, though, students can still rely on the current rules. That wasn't always the case. A few years ago, the state attempted to hold students in limbo until it could upgrade its "concordant" scores to more closely match newer, tougher requirements and expectations, much as they're doing now. …

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Gradebook podcast: State Rep. Ralph Massullo on compromise and 'legislation that works'

State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Citrus County

[Florida House of Representatives]

State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Citrus County

Even though he's a freshman lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Massullo hasn't shied from taking on some of the biggest education issues facing Florida's public schools. He's filed bills seeking to change high school graduation test requirements and class size calculations, among other tough topics. Reporter Jeff Solochek spoke with Massullo, who sits on the PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee, about his views.

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Florida education news: Daily recess, lottery funds, school vaccinations and more

PLAY TIME: A state report shows that not all Florida school districts offer similar access to recess.

PRESIDENT SEARCH: St. Petersburg College trustees want public input on the traits to seek in their next president.

LOTTERY FUNDS: The under siege Florida Lottery announces it has raised a record level of contributions for education, Florida Politics reports.

SCHOOL SHOTS: Less than 1 percent of Duval County students did not receive recommended vaccinations, Action News Jax reports.

SOCIAL MEDIA: The Bay County school district stands by its policy of holding teachers accountable for their social media use, after a teacher is disciplined for making comments about students on a closed Facebook site, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SCHOOLS MATTER: Continually poor performance of Jefferson County schools has negatively impacted the local economy, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

GENDER ISSUES: A Santa Rosa high school student gets in trouble, then has her discipline rescinded, for a sign in her car saying "So gay I can't even drive straight," the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

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Most Florida teachers continue to get strong evaluation ratings

Nearly all of Florida's evaluated public school teachers continued to receive strong reviews in 2015-16, according to newly released data from the state Department of Education.

As in previous years, about 98 percent of teachers statewide rated either "highly effective" (42.9%) or "effective" (52.0%), with a tiny 0.2 percent receiving "unsatisfactory" marks, 0.7 percent as "developing" in their first three years, and 1.2 percent "needs improvement." Another 28,683 teachers were not evaluated.

For the past five years, these results have been used to guide district decisions on raises and contract renewals, among other key actions. The state also has taken the information into account when determining eligibility for its controversial Best and Brightest bonus.

District leaders, meanwhile, have suggested they would like to see a more meaningful evaluation model that places a heavier emphasis on criteria other than test scores, with an eye toward helping teachers identify areas of excellence and deficits needing more training. Superintendents recently called upon lawmakers to eliminate the value-added model, that incorporates testing results, and allow for more locally driven decisions. …

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Pasco County parents petition to keep principal Chris Dunning (but he's going anyway)

Principal Chris Dunning

Times file photo

Principal Chris Dunning

It took maybe an hour after the news came out Friday for parents to start protesting the reassignment of admired Seven Springs Middle School principal Chris Dunning.

"It goes without saying how much we love Chris Dunning at SSMS...and we​,​ meaning staff, parents and students," community activist Heide Janshon wrote in an email to superintendent Kurt Browning. "The news we all got today is shocking and crushing. We do not want to lose him."

Other messages soon followed, with the words "stunned" and "saddened" prevalent. At least one person suggested the move to Ridgewood High was "politically motivated," noting Dunning and his wife were vocal opponents of the superintendent's plan to rezone their Longleaf neighborhood into different schools next fall.

A petition to keep Dunning at Seven Springs, where he's worked since 2012, quickly appeared online and gained more than 600 signatures by early Monday.

But Dunning told the Gradebook he intends to make the move to Ridgewood, effective Wednesday. …

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Florida education news: Budget cuts, teacher evaluations, A-Plus funds and more

BUDGET CUTTING: Hillsborough County school district officials are hesitant to cut grant-funded programs that help students, even after the money runs out.

IN COURT: A former Pinellas County student who was attacked at school sues the district.

EVALUATIONS: Nearly all Manatee County teachers receive a performance rating of "effective" or "highly effective," primarily because of a contract agreement, the Bradenton Herald reports.

RECOGNITION FUNDS: Florida schools see a 36 percent decrease in state A-Plus money as their student test results decrease, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SICK SCHOOLS? A new report by an environmental group suggests Florida schools might have high lead levels in their water, WGCU reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Eighteen people have applied to be Alachua County's next superintendent, the Gainesville Sun reports. • Polk County superintendent Jacqueline Byrd answers five questions for the Ledger. • Palm Beach County superintendent Robert Avossa would be eligible for a raise next year under a new proposal, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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