Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Another candidate forum in Hillsborough

Rounding out our list of upcoming public forums featuring candidates for the Hillsborough County School Board:

1. Aug. 3, 7 a.m., Idlewild Baptist Church, Lutz

2. Aug. 5, 5:30 p.m., Bell Shoals Baptist Church, Brandon.

3. Aug. 10, 2 p.m., John Germany Public Library, downtown Tampa. This one is hosted by the East Hillsborough Democratic Club.

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Pasco school returns John Green novel 'Paper Towns' to summer reading list

A Pasco County middle school that quietly removed star novelist John Green's 'Paper Towns' from its eighth-grade summer reading list after a parent's complaint has now just as quietly put the title back on its list.

Superintendent Kurt Browning faced threats of legal action from anti-censorship groups after he authorized the book's deletion over concerns about sexual content and language. He said he wanted to take community standards into consideration, and learned the teacher who selected the book never had read it.

The district administration wanted to tighten its procedures for selecting reading list titles, and also provide more information for parents to help their children make paper choices. At the same time, though, the district did not follow its own guidelines for handling challenged instructional materials.

The staff changed its operations, and it offered more details as it put 'Paper Towns' back onto the list, which also includes 'Animal Farm' and, for seventh graders, 'The House on Mango Street.' Now each title includes descriptions, which were not there originally. …

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Florida lawmaker wants to require student viewing of conservative, patriotic movie

This is a scene from America, Imagine the World Without Her.


This is a scene from America, Imagine the World Without Her.

During the 2014 legislative session, Florida Sen. Alan Hays looked to remove the state from the process of reviewing and selecting textbooks. The decisions, he argued, should be left to local school districts.

He appears to have different ideas when it comes to Dinesh D'Souza's conservative-leaning movie on the United States' history, America: Imagine the World Without Her.

The Hollywood Reporter reported late last week that Hays intends to file legislation in 2015 requiring all Florida public middle and high school students view the film unless parents specifically opt out.

"I saw the movie and walked out of the theater and said, ‘Wow, our students need to see this.’ And it’s my plan to show it to my colleagues in the legislature, too, before they’re asked to vote on the bill," Hays, whose other controversial bills have included a press for creationism in schools (2008) told the paper. …

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Florida education news: University debut, campus sinkhole, free internet and more

GETTING STARTED: Florida Polytechnic University still faces hurdles as it readies itself for opening day, the AP reports.

FIXING A HOLE: A small sinkhole opens on the campus of Volusia's Deltona High School, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

ONLINE ACCESS: Comcast offers to give low-income Palm Beach students up to six months of free internet service, the Palm Beach Post reports.

PLAYGROUND RULES: Bay elementary schools will replace sand with woodchips to meet federal accessibility guidelines, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SECURITY: Lee schools look to alternative funding sources to keep resource officers on campuses, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

A LITTLE HELP: School board candidates in central Florida hire experts to help get their messages out, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

DEMANDING: About 70 percent of applicants don't have what it takes to become an Escambia school bus driver, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

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Candidate forums in Hillsborough County

Ten of the 14 Hillsborough School Board candidates addressed the Tiger Bay Club on June 20.


Ten of the 14 Hillsborough School Board candidates addressed the Tiger Bay Club on June 20.

Campaigns are heating up for three Hillsborough County School Board seats and candidate forums are planned throughout the month, in advance of the Aug. 26 primary.

Two big ones are coming up soon: Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Aug. 3 at 7 a.m.. (yes, that's a.m., it's a morning meet-and-greet followed by questions for the candidates); and Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon on Aug. 5 at 5:30 p.m.
Organizers of other events are free to publicize them here. Email


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Florida education news: Law school, lacrosse, paychecks and more

TOO MANY LAWYERS: Florida sees its number of law schools rise while job availability declines.

AIMING HIGHER: Florida Southwestern College explores opportunities for student and faculty research, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

PUSHBACK: Girls' high school lacrosse teams complain about a new FHSAA rule requiring helmets, Florida Today reports.

PAYROLL PROBLEMS: A large number of hires and transfers means some Manatee school employees won't get their full paycheck on time, the Bradenton Herald reports.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: A Tony-winning actor gives some lessons to Palm Beach drama students, the Palm Beach Post reports.

SECURITY: Public officials debate the value of paying for resource officers in southwest Florida elementary schools, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

LONGER DAYS: Escambia leaders say the mandate to provide an extra hour at low performing elementary schools could cost the district raises, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

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Key administrator in turnaround named to principal position in Hernando

A key administrator in the turnaround at Eastside Elementary School this past school year is getting a chance to lead a school of her own.

On Friday evening, the district announced that assistant principal Lisa Piesik, 42 will take over as the new principal at Powell Middle for the 2014-15 school year.

Under the leadership of Piesik and principal Mary LeDoux, Eastside improved from an F to a C. LeDoux called Piesik an "integral part of the EES family and a huge part of helping to turn the school around.

"She will be missed,' LeDoux said in a statement.

Before coming to Eastside in 2013, Piesik spent most of her educational career at Powell. She started as a paraprofessional in 2002, then taught business courses and later served two years as the school's assistant principal.

She called Powell her "home."

Piesik replaces Jamie Young, who was promoted to the the district's director of teaching, learning and technology, a newly revised position.

With Piesik's appointment, all of the district's principal positions have now been filled for the upcoming school year. …

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Florida education news: Budgets, magnets, migrants and more

BUDGETING: Hernando's financial picture brightens as its year-end account balances improve.

GOOD START: A plan to add more magnet schools in Pinellas County offers promise of improving the district's lowest performing schools, the Times editorializes.

SCHOOL BOARD RACES: The Times recommends three new faces for the Hillsborough School Board.

SUPERINTENDENT SELECTION: Clay County residents debate the relative merits of an elected vs. an appointed superintendent in the Florida Times-Union.

INFLUX: Florida school districts ask for federal assistance as they anticipate increased numbers of migrant students, Sunshine State News reports.

LINE OF FIRE: A recently promoted Duval administrator faces questions over problems in his former department, the Florida Times-Union reports.

IN THE BALANCE: Manatee's superintendent could be in for rough times if School Board elections don't go his way, the Herald-Tribune reports.

MATH SUPERSTARS: Alachua Buchholz High students shine at yet another national math competition, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida Department of Education clarifies extended day rule for lowest 300

The Florida Department of Education on Friday issued a memo to school districts advising that the term "beyond the normal school day" means just that when it comes to how the state's 300 lowest-performing elementary schools expand their reading instruction. Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote:

"For purposes of compliance with this requirement, a school year is understood to be comprised of 180 instructional days, section 1011.61(1)(c)2., Florida Statutes, and the additional instructional time requirement is understood to be additive relative to the current minimums of 720 hours per year for students in grades K-3 and 900 hours per year for students in grades 4 and higher, section 1011.61(1)(a)1., Florida Statutes.

"Therefore, each school identified as one of the 300 lowest performing elementary schools in reading will be required to schedule a minimum of 900 annual instructional hours for students in grades K-3, and 1080 annual instructional hours for students in grades 4 and higher, through an additional hour of reading instruction provided each day during the regular 180-day school year."

Schools that already meet that mandate don't have to add more. …

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Pasco district offers choices to students at persistently struggling schools

Children assigned to seven Pasco County public schools can choose to attend other schools in the district through Florida's Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The program allows students attending schools that have received an F in state grading, or three consecutive D's, to transfer to other campuses with transportation provided. This year, Pasco had five schools rated F, and two with three straight D marks. Letters began going to parents this week.

The district offers options to the students that fit within its transportation model, and that have space available. In past years, the transfers have been little used, but this year officials said they expect the numbers to rise.

The options are:

Hudson Elementary (3 D's) -- Crews Lake K-8 (C) or Cypress Elementary (C)

Gulf Highlands Elementary (F) -- Cotee River Elementary (C) or Deer Park Elementary (B)

Fox Hollow Elementary School (F) -- Deer Park Elementary (B) or Dr. Mary Giella Elementary (C)

Moon Lake Elementary (F) -- Cotee River Elementary (C) or Dr. Mary Giella Elementary (C)

Gulfside Elementary (F) -- Anclote Elementary (C) or Mittye P. Locke Elementary School (C) …

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Election: Forum coming up for Pinellas County School Board

The election for Pinellas County School Board is a month away, with five seats in play. Next week, there will be a chance to see the candidates in action.

Candidates have been invited to a public forum at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Digitorium at St. Petersburg College on the Seminole campus. That's at 9200 113th St. N, Seminole. The candidates will be asked about current issues and their qualifications for office. The forum is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6 p.m. 

The event is being put on by the Pinellas County Council of Parent Teacher Association and the Pinellas Education Foundation, with a little help from the League of Women Voters, Brighthouse Networks and St. Petersburg College. Local journalists will moderate the event.

The primary election, in which most non-partisan school board seats are determined, is Aug. 26. If no one in a race receives more than 50 percent of the vote there will be a run-off between the top two candidates in November. One Pinellas race, District 7, will be determined in November because there is a write-in candidate.

Check out the candidates here

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Florida education news: Arts, standards, school improvement and more

ARTS EDUCATION: Hernando high school students win permission to transfer schools based on the availability of music programs.

COMMON CORE: New state academic standards divide candidates for Sarasota School Board, the Herald-Tribune reports.

ACCOUNTABILITY: North Florida teachers attend a conference on school improvement for ideas, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

BUDGETING: The Manatee School Board seeks to fund a finance management program to help resolve its budget difficulties, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SECURITY: The Holmes Beach police department asks the Manatee school district to pay more to place a resource officer at Anna Maria Elementary, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SAMPLE SIZE: Students at Lake Wales High charter are chosen to participate in the TIMSS and PISA exams, the Ledger reports.

HOME SCHOOLING: Collier County sees a boom in home-schooled children, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

TAXES: Orange County officials prepare to launch a campaign for their local schools sales tax extension, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

GOVERNOR'S RACE: National teachers unions aim to oust Florida Gov. Rick Scott from office, Politico reports.

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Union wants a pay bump for Hillsborough school aides

The Hillsborough school district and teacher's union have been in negotiations all week.


The Hillsborough school district and teacher's union have been in negotiations all week.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association wants to give classroom aides, including those who care for special-needs children, a $1.68-an-hour raise.

The proposal is just one of many under discussion as the union and the Hillsborough school district negotiate this year's contract changes.

The union is arguing for the bump in pay to bring paraprofessionals up to a living wage. Those at the lowest tier, who are paid $8.42 an hour, earn $11,257 a year according to the union's calculations. That's below the federal poverty level for even a single person, which is $11,670. Under the proposed plan, which calls for a $10.10 starting wage, they would earn $13,503. The union also wants to accelerate the employees' pay increases over the years. That entry-level aide could advance to $17.23 an hour in 22 years instead of 32.

The proposed raises also apply to other classroom aides and support employees including secretaries and data processors.

The issue of pay and work conditions for aides has been discussed at length since late 2012, when two ESE students died in the district. One had a respiratory crisis while on a school bus; the other drowned in a pond behind her middle school. …

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Get ready: The School Board auditor issue is coming back in Hillsborough

For more than a year, off and on, members of the Hillsborough County School Board have debated whether they should hire their own auditor.

Sure, in a budget of $2.8-billion, there are audits galore. But the inhouse auditors and accountants answer to the superintendent and her staff.

Some board members want to see audits that are more independent.

The idea, raised by member April Griffin when she was chair, failed 4-3 in early 2013. It was dormant for awhile.

Then Griffin brought it up again in June. There were tense discussions about when it could be voted on, as board members had vacations scheduled and some wanted to make sure all seven were present.

It appears that will be the case Tuesday.

At the board's request, attorney Jim Porter researched the legality and has this to say: State law allows the board to hire an auditor to essentially verify financial records. But the board also can contract out for broader performance audits.

Porter also answered the question of how many kinds audits routinely happen in a district the size of Hillsborough. They vary in frequency, some quarterly and others yearly or even every five years.

Here's the list: There are 34. …

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Pinellas school board member diagnosed with cancer

Pinellas school board member Peggy O'Shea was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, she told Gradebook. She expects to begin chemotherapy next week.

"I plan on being as active as I can. On days I'm not feeling good, that's another thing, but I won't be stopping activities," she said.

O'Shea found the lump during a self-exam and urged others to stay on top of their own health. Her cancer was caught relatively early.

"This is a reminder to everybody: get your annual screenings, do self-exams, talk to your doctor, whatever it takes, because early detection is key," she said.

O'Shea has served in the District 3 school board seat, an at-large position, for eight years. She is running for re-election against Kent Curtis, a local professor who founded a nonprofit that provides gardens and mentors for the schools.

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