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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Performance pay, summer activities, growth and more

PERFORMANCE PAY: SAT and ACT makers say they haven't considered whether their tests could be used to predict who will be good teachers as Florida proposes in its Best and Brightest program, the Miami Herald reports.

STAY SAFE: The Duval school system opens school gyms over the summer to give kids more things to to do, the Florida Times-Union reports.

INPUT: The Okaloosa school district seeks higher response on its annual parent survey, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

GROWTH: The Brevard school district projects its largest enrollment influx in years, Florida Today reports.

FINAL DAYS: Manatee School Board member Mary Cantrell enters hospice and will not return to her post, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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Pasco schools budget targets 3 percent raises

The end result of Florida's legislative budget debates has not dimmed Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning's plan to offer 3 percent raises to all district employees for the coming year.

"It is my priority to have a 3 percent pay increase," Browning said, adding that if cuts must be made, they will come from other parts of the budget.

Browning presented summary documents to School Board members this week, in preparation for a workshop on spending next Tuesday. In it, the largest single increase to the general fund is $11.2 million for raises. The proposal also includes $2.7 million for added positions, including staff for three reopened schools and 31 new in-school technology technicians.

All together, the district expects $23.7 million in new revenue, including $4.1 million in nonrecurring funds. Of that amount, $8.3 million is slated for fixed costs such as retirement contributions, with the rest going to raises, benefits, programs and a small discretionary fund of $319.774.

Board members expressed satisfaction with the recommendations. …

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Florida education news: Evaluations, summer school, high-stakes testing and more

TEACHER EVALUATIONS: The Pasco teachers union says it would prefer to have student test scores count as half a teacher's evaluation rather than a third.

LEARNING LOSS: Pasco Fox Hollow Elementary opens its media center on Tuesdays for students to get added reading time and instruction. • Hillsborough Valrico Elementary offers children a Summer Literacy Club.

IMPROVED INSTRUCTION: Hernando school leaders attribute improved student state test results to added instructional coaching of teachers.

DISCRIMINATION: A Guatemalan-born teen has sued the Palm Beach school district, alleging it forced him out of classes once he turned 18, the Palm Beach Post reports.

TEST STRESS: Marion teachers say high stakes testing keeps them on edge, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

BEST AND BRIGHTEST? The National Council on Teacher Quality criticizes Florida's new teacher bonus program based on teacher SAT scores, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Pasco teacher contract talks bring surprise over evaluations

In an unexpected twist Thursday, the United School Employees of Pasco rejected a district offer to reduce the amount that student test scores count on teacher evaluations.

Taking advantage of new state law, the district had offered to cut the weight of the data from 50 percent to 35 percent, giving added heft to classroom observations. Union representatives said the idea seemed "fantastic" on its face, but after crunching numbers it appeared less so.

In a nutshell, lead negotiator Val Smith said, a teacher with exceptional student performance results over multiple years could be hurt by an administrator's low rating of a handful of activities in class.

"We're going to continue to advocate for the 50-50 split," Smith said. See our story here.

District officials were surprised, to say the least, by the move. Lawmakers offered the flexibility for a reason, negotiator Kathy Scalise observed, and the district and union would be wise to take advantage.

For the time being, though, the sides did not see eye to eye. And it wasn't just over the use of test data. …

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In the running -- maybe -- for Hillsborough School Board

Randy Toler might have competition as he goes after the countywide Hillsborough County School Board seat now held by Carol Kurdell. Or he might not.

Stanley Gray, a 59-year-old retiree, filed his papers this week to run.

When contacted by Gradebook, he said, "I'm considering running."

He filed, he said, because he thought he was up against a deadline to do so. But it turns out that deadline is not until almost a year from now, in June 2016.

Gray said he has varied business experience and has volunteered at Lanier Elementary School in a program that encourages children to read. "I believe that even though I am strong willed, I can compromise and I can seek compromise," he said.

Then he cut the conversation short, saying he'd rather meet in person and "I don't even know who you are." Gradebook asked him to get back in touch if he decides to run.

Other newcomers to the school board races include Alix Christopher Toulme Jr., who criticized incumbent Susan Valdes, his opponent, for firing MaryEllen Elia. Touleme said he would have waited for Elia's contract to run out, not realizing that probably would never happen, as she had a self-perpetuating contract. …

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Former Pinellas teacher claims he was fired for union activity

A former Pinellas County teacher, who now works at a local charter school, has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against his former bosses.

Kirby Hart, a science and math teacher at Academie da Vinci, claims he was threatened with termination because of his activity with the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

In documents filed with the Public Employees Relations Commission, Hart explains that he joined the union after his school at the time, Pinellas Gulf Coast Academy, was taken over by the school district. He volunteered to serve as the building representative, and began asking pointed questions of the principal after teachers complained they were working more hours than the contract required.

As he continued to press the issue, Kirby wrote, the principal became increasingly angry. "I began being treated more and more in a negative and unprofessional manner," he stated in the document.

Soon after taking a sick day for a doctor's appointment, he stated, he was called in for a meeting where he was told to resign or be terminated. "Any questions we attempted to ask were either met with no reply, being cut off, or inaccurate responses." …

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Pasco Middle School gets new principal

Barring any unforeseen additional changes, the Pasco school district has filled its last remaining principal vacancy with another familiar face.

Jeffrey Wolff, assistant principal at the Dade City school since 2010, will move into the top job upon School Board approval. Wolff, who was an assistant principal at Wesley Chapel High before moving to Pasco Middle, has worked for the school district since 1996.

He's the second person in his family to become a principal within the system: His wife, Christine Wolff, leads John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel.

Wolff replaces Kim Anderson, who was transferred to San Antonio Elementary School. One of his primary responsibilities will be to continue the school's transition into the Cambridge advanced academic program, which feeds into Pasco High.

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Florida education news: Testing, finances, overdue repairs and more

PRIORITIES: On his first official day, Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins talks about his goals for the school district.

COMMUNICATION: Pasco Pine View Middle leaders scale back their aggressive scheduling and curriculum plans after listening to parent concerns.

TESTING: Ohio follows Florida's lead in dropping PARCC and moving to AIR for its state testing, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

SOFTWARE DISPUTE: The Brevard school district has yet to receive much of the computer software it bought for $5.5 million, Florida Today reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Bankruptcy proceedings give an inside look into a failed Duval charter school's financial woes, the Florida Times-Union reports. • An embattled Sarasota charter school plans to start from scratch on its reorganization, the Herald-Tribune reports.

PARTNERSHIP: The Bay school district joins forces with a developer and the local convention and visitors bureau to create a new sports complex and public school, the Panama City News Herald reports.

MAINTENANCE: A Broward high school will continue to wait for long-needed and promised repairs, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Former Charlotte School Board member takes helm at FSBA

Andrea Messina, the Florida School Boards Association's director of professional development since 2012, has taken over the organization's top spot as executive director. Her first day on the job was Wednesday.

Messina, a former three-term Charlotte School Board member, replaced longtime FSBA leader Wayne Blanton, who retired in the spring after four decades advocating for school boards. The FSBA board selected her during a recent meeting in Tampa.

"We were fortunate to consider several excellent candidates for this position," FSBA president Caroline Zucker said in a news release. "Andrea presented the best combination of experience and leadership to take the helm as Executive Director."

Messina is a former English teacher who worked in Charlotte and Orange counties, and a past member of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

"I look forward to this new opportunity to work with school board members and school districts to build on FSBA's legacy of advocating for students and public education," Messina said in a release.

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10 Florida members of Congress call on Gov. Scott to dump this year's testing results

As this spring's Florida Standards Assessment results continue to trickle out, a group of Florida's congressional delegation on Wednesday asked Gov. Rick Scott to stop the process.

Contending the outcomes are tainted because of myriad computer problems during the testing period, the 10 members -- nine Democrats and one Republican -- have suggested that the scores cannot be dependable.

"Even if the statutorily mandated independent evaluation due in September deems test questions valid, serious questions remain about whether the disruptive testing conditions rendered this test an unreliable tool for assessing student learning," the group wrote. "Children across the state suffered through blank screens, crashed servers, and repeated log outs. We cannot reasonably expect our children to perform well under these circumstances."

Alpine Testing Solutions is in the middle of evaluating the validity of the FSA exams, with a deadline of Sept. 1 for its final report. …

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All quiet in the hunt for an open Pasco School Board seat

When Joanne Hurley first ran for Pasco School Board in 2008, she spent more than a year before ballot qualifying in the community getting to know people and, more importantly, making sure voters got to know her.

Her effort worked so well that she overcame two other civic leaders in the primary by such a large margin that she avoided a general election battle.

Now that Hurley is retiring in 2016 from her seat representing central Pasco County, she's baffled that there's been so little activity to replace her. Qualifying is less than a year off, and not one person has contacted her to ask advice or just discuss the job and the work it entails.

No one has pre-filed to seek the position.

Hurley suggested the time is now to get moving, for someone who desires to influence education policy in the county. It takes a while, after all, to achieve the public identification needed to run a successful campaign, she said.

"That is so important," Hurley said. "You can have a lot of money and you can have a lot of people backing you, but if you don't have that name recognition ... The voters, when they go into the booth, they are looking for someone they know." …

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Eakins speaks at 11 a.m.

Jeff Eakins is officially superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools today, and he will speak at a news conference at 11 a.m.

We will live tweet the event, which can also be seen here.

Eakins, who became acting superintendent on March 6, has spent the last several months restructuring his cabinet and setting priorities that include a more student-centered culture and a higher graduation rate.

Stay with tampabay.com for full coverage.

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Florida education news: Per-student funding, wildflowers, adult education and more

FUNDING: Lake school officials are happy the district will get $12.5 million in added funding, but still note its per-student funding lags the state, the Daily Commercial reports.

TAXES: The St. Johns School Board unanimously agrees to seek a local sales tax for school capital projects, the Florida Times-Union reports.

PAY CUTS: School custodians expect to receive less pay as the Volusia district switches vendors, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The retired founder of a troubled Sarasota charter school questions the school's direction under its current leadership, the Herald-Tribune reports.

GREEN THUMBS: Sixteen Broward and Palm Beach schools receive free wildflower seeds to help their student gardening lessons, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MONEY MATTERS: Tampa area fifth graders learn financial skills at Enterprise Village, State Impact Florida reports.

ADULT EDUCATION: The Leon school district's adult education programs lose state funding, causing teacher layoffs and program reductions, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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Are Florida teachers ready to seek a Best and Brightest scholarship?

Reaction to our story on Florida's new program to pay teachers more money based in part on their SAT or ACT scores came swiftly.

The Washington Post called the idea "kooky." The Herald-Tribune leaned toward "nonsense." Reader feedback proved highly critical, as well.

But that doesn't mean teachers are ready to turn down good money.

Pasco County school district officials told the Gradebook that two teachers showed up at the central office in Land O'Lakes on Monday with their SAT score reports in hand, asking how they could sign up for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship.

Unprepared, the district didn't take the paperwork or any other information from the teachers, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. The human resources department then quickly began drafting information to send out to the staff, so they know how and when to apply.

The new provision, written into the recently adopted budget, says that teachers must submit their score reports to their districts no later than Oct. 1. The money would be delivered to the teachers no later than April 1. …

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Set Florida's test cut scores higher, Jeb Bush foundation says

With new tests in play, the Florida Department of Education plans to set the passing scores this fall, after a validity study is complete.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, established by former governor Jeb Bush, wants the DOE to make those cut scores higher. That way, the group contends, Florida students will have a better idea of how they compare to national academic expectations.

"Across the country, states are in the process of reviewing their proficiency cut scores," CEO Patricia Levesque said in a release. "Florida leaders must raise their proficiency expectations if they hope to create an education system where every child masters the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the next grade - and most importantly - after high school."

On a new website, called Why Proficiency Matters, the organization shows that Florida often reports higher levels of student performance at top levels than does the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. For instance, Florida FCAT scores showed that 60 percent of fourth graders were reading proficiently, compared to 39 percent according to NAEP results.

See the Florida data from the site here. …

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