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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida Board of Education budget recommendation mirrors Gov. Rick Scott's campaign pledge

The Florida Board of Education will consider its 2015-16 legislative budget request when it meets next week Monday in Tampa.

The LBR looks an awful lot like Gov. Rick Scott's campaign platform for education.

Scott's proposal and the FBOE recommendation both include:

- $7,176.33 per FTE student. (Both also point out that this is a historic level, $50 greater than in 2007-08 when some other guy was governor.)

- $40 million more for digital education.

- $10 million more for school security.

The State Board is now made up entirely of Scott appointees. The more interesting questions are, would the Legislature back this plan? And, will it change if a different governor is in charge come January?

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Details firm up for Pasco's first magnet school

The Pasco school district is honing the specifics for its new STEAM magnet school at Sanders Elementary as its Tuesday parent information meeting nears.

Among the latest tidbits:

- Students may begin applying in December, with students coming from overcrowded Connerton and Oakstead elementary schools getting extra priority in the lottery process. Children of faculty members would get secondary priority. Overall, the plan is to have the student body be geographically balanced and to mirror the community demographics.

- The district plans to survey parents of this year's fourth graders, to see if they would be willing to send their children to Sanders for one year. If the response is an overwhelming "no," the school could open its first year for kindergarten for fourth grade only. …

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Former opponent endorsed Billiris

Beverley Billiris, former mayor of Tarpon Springs and a retired teacher, has picked up the endorsement of one of her former opponents in the race for Pinellas County School Board.

John Nygren, a retired teacher, said he will support Billiris in her bid for the District 4 seat. Nygren lost in a three-way race for the non-partisan seat in the August primary. Ken Peluso, a retired chiropractor and former chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas, took the most votes in the primary, but not enough to avoid a run-off race with Billiris in November.

Peluso got 48 percent of the vote, while Billiris earned 39 percent. Nygren had 13 percent.

The District 4 seat, which covers much of northern Pinellas, was open this year because of Board member Robin Wikle's unexpected mid-term resignation. Wikle announced the move in February, but has stayed on the board long enough to have an election rather than a gubernatorial appointment to the seat.  …

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Florida education news: Teacher training, Common Core, critical thinking and more

TRAINING TIME: Pasco district leaders look for ways to reduce professional development events that take teachers out of classrooms.

STANDARDS: A Hillsborough fifth grade classroom is the focal point for a CBS News report on how Common Core is changing instruction.

DELVING DEEPER: Thousands of Broward high school students enroll in a new program aimed at getting them to look more critically at information, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SPENDING SMART: Florida schools begin to implement new financial literacy standards, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TESTING: It's time for Florida to revise its testing requirements, putting more focus on using the results to help students, the Ocala Star-Banner editorializes.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Volusia charter school applicant complains that the school district makes it difficult to open new charters, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

MAKING IT FUN: A Polk math teacher uses games and apps to keep her students interested, the Ledger reports.

BULLYING: The Bay school district updates its anti-bullying policy to add language that pleases the LGBT community, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

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Florida education news: School board races, college counseling, breastfeeding and more

SEEKING OFFICE: The candidates for Hillsborough School Board District 4 focus on conservative issues.

CAMPUS RAPES: Few reported rapes on Florida university campuses are prosecuted.

A LITTLE HELP: Private counseling booms in south Florida to help families make college decisions as high school guidance decreases, the Sun-Sentinel reports. 

NO THANKS: The Manatee school district recommends rejection of four charter school applications, and two others applicants withdraw, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Many Florida charter schools succeed, and some district leaders say lawmakers should revise law to allow good ones to flourish while putting more oversight on troubled charters, the Naples Daily News reports. 

PUMPING TIME: Miami-Dade teachers seek rights for breastfeeding moms who want to pump while at work, the Miami Herald reports.

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Florida education news: Crowding, college costs, grenade launchers and more

NO VACANCY: Hernando's Winding Waters K-8 hits its capacity, forcing the district to send new students who move in to other less crowded schools.

COLLEGE COSTS: The Legislature should create a program that helps make college affordable for low-income students, the Times editorializes.

WEAPONRY: The University of Central Florida says it will get rid of a military grenade launcher it got through a Department of Defense program, but it's keeping the M16 assault rifles, the Washington Post reports.

TESTING: A consortium of 11 school districts calls for a suspension of high-stakes testing in Florida, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

PLAY TIME: Some Manatee parents complain about the reduction of recess for their elementary children, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SECURITY: Two leaders of Manatee's recently hired school security firm have arrest records, the Bradenton Herald reports.

DRIVERS NEEDED: The Polk school district struggles to hire enough bus drivers, the Ledger reports.

OUTSOURCING: A hiring firm will keep its contract to provide substitutes to Polk schools after improving the district's fill rate, the Ledger reports. …

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Hillsborough's Florida Standards lessons will be on CBS Sunday

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, shown here in Ruskin, has been travelling around Hillsborough County to answer questions about Common Core and the Florida Standards. Her appearance at Grady Elementary School will be shown on a CBS News show Sunday.


Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, shown here in Ruskin, has been travelling around Hillsborough County to answer questions about Common Core and the Florida Standards. Her appearance at Grady Elementary School will be shown on a CBS News show Sunday.

It's known locally as Florida Standards. Elsewhere, it's still called Common Core, and it persists as a hot political topic.

On Sunday morning, CBS news will air a program on the movement that was filmed largely in Hillsborough County.

Scheduled tenatively to appear at 9 a.m., the show will include footage of a classroom at Rampello K-8 student and at a parent meeting at Grady Elementary School, one of many Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has held around the state.


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Pasco superintendent holds hearing over teacher planning

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning made one thing clear during his 90-minute hearing over teachers' complaint about planning time. He wanted to ensure that the district meets its contractual obligations.

"I want to be sure if contract language is there, that we're following the contract language," Browning said.

The United School Employees of Pasco contended that the district was falling short. Business representative Jim Ciadella said the contract sets aside 40 minutes for training in a collaborative environment, also referred to as a professional learning communities. Yet many schools demand more, he claimed.

"Many if not most schools chose, or were directed by the district, to use additional time for continued professional development," he said, stating that the longer sessions take away from teachers' independent planning and class preparations. …

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FSU foes point to John Thrasher's ties to Koch brothers

Set to run in Saturday's paper:

One of the latest lines of attack against state Sen. John Thrasher becoming Florida State University's next president: Tying him to the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers.

But Thrasher's ties to the political activists — whose name at FSU is especially radioactive since a controversial gift several years ago — are not as clear as some are suggesting.

Thrasher has accepted campaign donations from the Kochs and attended events with other conservatives that were sponsored in part by Koch dollars. But Thrasher's conservative politics have conflicted with Charles and David Koch's libertarianism.

"I have been saying I've never met them, I've never talked to them and I wouldn't recognize them if they walked into the room," Thrasher told the Times/Herald Thursday.

Thrasher's campaign received a $1,000 check in February from Koch Industries, the Kansas-based company that made the brothers billionaires. He received another $1,000 from the company in 2012.

Thrasher raised nearly $847,000 in total during those two campaign cycles.

Read more here.

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Pasco teachers, administration compromise on planning time

The battle over planning for Pasco County teachers took a twist Thursday, as the district teachers union and administration inked a deal increasing the amount of time teachers will have to prepare independently each week.

Concerned that required professional learning community meetings were eating into teachers' individual prep time, the United School Employees of Pasco proposed giving teachers 400 minutes of weekly planning rather than the current 250. All the extra time would have given teachers the ability to do things such as make copies and prepare their rooms, USEP officials said.

The district responded Thursday by offering 50 added minutes of individual time, without taking away from the district- and principal-assigned portions usually set aside for the PLC sessions. USEP officials agreed to the deal.

The agreement does not do away with the union's formal complaint over PLC requirements, though. The two sides will present their cases to superintendent Kurt Browning today. …

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Florida education news: Paddling, killer bees, driver education and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Four low performing Pinellas charter schools present improvement plans to the School Board. • The St. John's School Board finds several problems with a charter school application, the St. Augustine Record reports. • The Sarasota school district requires action plans from two Imagine charter schools with financial problems, the Herald-Tribune reports.

CAMPUS WEAPONS: The Pinellas school district has no business owning military assault rifles, the Times editorializes. • At least one new Manatee school guard who was supposed to be unarmed arrived to work with a stun gun, the Herald-Tribune reports.

PADDLING: Florida is among 19 states that still allow corporal punishment in school, the Washington Post Answer Sheet reports.

TESTING: Lee School Board members will ask colleagues at the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards to consider the opt-out concept, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • The Palm Beach School Board adopts a resolution urging change in Florida's testing system, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Alachua educators prepare about 600 end-of-course exams to help evaluate teachers, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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Communications director requirements downgraded

Well, that didn't take long.

Donna Winchester, director of strategic communications, left the Pinellas County School District last month for a new job at the University of Florida. District officials now are proposing a downgrade in the requirements to fill her position.

The job currently requires a master's degree in communications, journalism or public relations and 10 years of experience. If the School Board signs off Tuesday on the proposed change, job candidates would only need a bachelor's degree and five years of experience. None of the major functions of the job would change, however, and preferred qualifications would include a master's degree.

Board members discussed the change at a recent workshop. The idea was to broaden the applicant pool for the job. It hasn't been posted yet. 

Winchester had worked at the school district since 2009, after about a decade at the Times. She left the school district to become the director of communications for UF, leading a couple major initiatives. 

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Teachers get 2.5 percent pay bump in Pinellas

Teachers in Pinellas County Schools will see another bump in pay this year.

The school district reached a tentative agreement with its employee unions, including the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, to provide employees with an average 2.5 percent pay raise. That follows last year's average 5.6 percent bump.

The raise doesn't include the increase in referendum dollars that occurred with this year's improvement in property values. Teachers will get nearly $300 more each. All raises are subject to ratification by the unions as well as a vote by the Pinellas County School Board.

District employees not represented by unions - such as administrators - will also see a 2.5 percent pay bump. All pay raises will be retroactive to July. Employees will be alerted about when they can expect to see the extra money. 

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Florida Virtual School may sue over naming trademarks

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that Florida Virtual School can sue Florida Virtual Academy over its name.

"We hold that the Florida Virtual School’s statutory authority to 'acquire, enjoy, use, and dispose of . . . trademarks and any licenses and other rights or interests thereunder or therein,' and the designation of its board of trustees as a 'body corporate with all the powers of a body corporate and such authority as is needed for the proper operation and improvement of the Florida Virtual School,' necessarily includes the authority to file an action to protect those trademarks," the Court stated in a ruling issued Thursday.

The question arose after Florida Virtual School sued Florida Virtual Academy in 2011, alleging trademark infringement. That case made it to a U.S. appellate court, which ruled last year that Florida had conflicting laws on the matter. …

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Voucher supporters seek backing from Pasco School Board

Crystal Kryder had a simple message for the Pasco County School Board: Support vouchers.

Students come to First Christian Academy in New Port Richey for many reasons, the mother of three told the board, and not all can afford the cost. Step Up For Students, the organization that oversees the state's corporate tax credit scholarships, makes it happen for nearly half of the school's students, she said.

Kryder spoke of the school's recent salutatorian, who she said grew academically and socially in the school with a voucher. "This wouldn’t have been possible for her to do without the Step Up program," she said, urging the School Board to throw its weight behind vouchers.

And she was not alone. Another voucher proponent from a Dade City Christian school also asked the board to back vouchers, calling the system "wonderful." A few others in the audience nodded in support but did not speak. …

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