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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Bus rides, teacher discipline, recruiting violations and more

BUSING WOES: A Hernando kindergartner gets off his school bus at the wrong stop, prompting an investigation. • Several Manatee elementary students were left stranded after their school bus passes them by, the driver saying it was too crowded, WWSB reports.

BACK ON TRACK: Hernando's new aviation course debuts as hoped after enrollment rises.

ETHICAL LAPSE: Hernando School Board member John Sweeney doesn't deserve reelection after his effort to influence his son's grades, the Times editorializes. 

STUDENT RIGHTS: The ACLU asks a judge to force the Lake School Board to allow a middle school student to create a gay-straight alliance, My News 13 reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: Judges find that the Broward school district repeatedly dismisses teachers improperly, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TESTING: A Palm Beach teacher loses her state certification after helping students cheat on the FCAT, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

ATHLETIC TRANSFERS: Escambia High School is under investigation for alleged recruiting violations, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

SECURITY: The Manatee school district prepares to hire a private security firm to guard all elementary schools, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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Bashing over education continues in Florida governor race

Our colleagues at the Buzz report that the rhetoric over education issues is getting even hotter in the expected Rick Scott v. Charlie Crist race for Florida governor.

The latest salvo comes from the Crist camp. "We thought it really important to remind Floridians that you cannot trust Rick Scott about public education," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, speaking for the Crist campaign.

The Scott campaign responded that Crist, a former Republican governor, suffered "education amnesia."

Read more here.

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Pasco teachers union makes counter offer on tobacco-free schools, plus other proposals

The United School Employees of Pasco has inched off its opposition to the administration's pitch for a complete tobacco-use ban at all schools and offices. During negotiations Thursday, the union proposed that support by 95 percent of a school's staff could end smoking on campuses where it's now allowed. (See the offer here.)

Currently, one staff member could stop a school from going tobacco free.

"That's our initial counter proposal," said USEP lead negotiator Jim Ciadella. "I'm not sure how far we're willing to go with this."

District employee relations director Betsy Kuhn called the union's response to the district initiative "disappointing." Superintendent Kurt Browning has made it a priority to end tobacco use at all district sites.

"I'm glad we're still talking about it, but it's not what I wanted to see," Kuhn said.

Ciadella suggested that the smoking debate should not be a priority. Rather, he said, the sides should be focusing on issues that impact teaching and learning. That in mind, he said, the USEP also proposed changing the amount of time that teachers spend planning independently rather than in professional learning communities. …

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Pasco school district to close its transportation call center early

After opening to much fanfare, the Pasco school district's transportation call center is shutting down a week earlier than expected.

The reason: A lack of phone calls.

The district established the center in response to a string of parent complaints at the start of the 2013-14 school year, with many saying they couldn't get through to anyone to ask questions or get answers. Buses were running late and missing stops, and superintendent Kurt Browning demanded an overhaul to the system.

Other changes included a freeze on all bus routes through the second week of classes, and a new computer program to track buses as they arrived at schools and left.

In its first day, the call center received nearly 1,700 calls. But the numbers dwindled quickly. By Thursday, "we pulled all district employee volunteers (off the phones) and had just substitutes," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "We sent the staff back to work."

Beginning Monday, parents should call their schools or the district transportation office with their concerns.

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Florida education news: Student funding, travel plans, party politics and more

MORE MONEY: Florida Gov. Rick Scott says his next budget proposal would include an "historic" per-student funding level.

GETTING AROUND: Pasco School Board members question the need for the district staff to travel out of county so much.

PARTY POLITICS: The race for one of Hernando County's nonpartisan School Board seats becomes decidedly partisan.

MAKING PROFITS: Some Florida charter school firms make their money off real estate deals even as their schools struggle, WTSP reports.

TEACHER PAY: The Manatee school district cuts teachers' supplemental pay rates, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SUNSHINE LAW: Palm Beach School Board members face questions over records of private phone calls to one another, the Palm Beach Post reports.

FLIP-FLOP: A Marion School Board member changes her mind -- and the likely majority -- on whether to fully restore arts to elementary schools, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Teachers at a Lee school alter student records to help generate business for their own private tutoring program, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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Take more time using testing results for evaluations, U.S. education secretary Duncan says

Saying that testing is "sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools," U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan today said his department would ease its rules on using test results in teacher evaluations.

Tying ratings to scores has been part of the federal government's requirement for states to waive other mandates. Florida began doing so a couple of years ago.

Duncan said it's time to step back and reassess: …

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Pasco district expands reading program for low performing elementary schools

Pasco County school district officials don't want to see any local elementary schools on the state's lowest performing 300 list for reading again next year.

So after finding resources to add a state-mandated extra hour of instruction to the three on the list this year, the district expanded its efforts to its schools that landed between 300 and 400 in the recent calculation. The five additional schools -- Centennial, Calusa, Fox Hollow, Hudson and Sunray -- will get extra instructional technology to boost children's learning during the new academic year.

The School Board on Tuesday approved the purchase of new laptops and the iReady reading and math software for the schools, using money from its federal Title I grant and state Digital Classroom funds. iReady is described as a program to provide more individualized instruction based on student needs.

Fourth and fifth graders at Lacoochee, Cox and Gulfside elementary schools began attending an extra 50 minutes of school daily this week, as they came under the state rules for reading performance. Those schools also will use the iReady system, with one-to-one computer access.

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Gov. Rick Scott announces proposal to boost Florida education spending

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, facing a heated reelection battle in which his dedication to education has been challenged, this morning announced his plan to recommend "an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state’s history." 

"We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise," Scott said in a release. "Because we were able to get Florida’s economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education."

Politifact Florida has said Scott's claim of having the state's highest education budget this year is half true, depending on how you look at the numbers. During his tenure, Scott has proposed massive cuts to education funding, and then later restored some of the $1.3 billion he cut. He pushed for and got money for teacher raises in the fiscal 2014 budget, but did not make a similar press in the current budget.

Seeking to boost his support amid attacks by Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who boasts of vetoing massive changes to teachers' employment terms, Scott now talks of education in populist language. …

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Florida education news: Grade changes, volunteer hours, test scores and more

IN THE DETAILS: An investigation report offers insight into a grade changing controversy involving Hernando School Board member John Sweeney.

TENSIONS MOUNT: The Pasco school district reprimands teacher union president Kenny Blankenship over accusations of political speech at employee training.

VOLUNTEER HOURS: Some Pasco teens gain credit toward Bright Futures scholarships while also learning about career opportunities by volunteering at a local hospital.

EXPERIENCE MATTERS: A new report shows Miami-Dade's lowest performing schools have the least experienced teachers, State Impact Florida reports. District officials say they're aware of the issue and working to resolve it, the Miami Herald reports.

TEST SCORES: Florida's 2014 ACT results are among the worst in the nation, the Sunshine State News reports.

AT RISK: The Duval school district considers closing a brand new charter school because of low enrollment and missing teacher background checks, the Florida Times-Union reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Some Broward parents discuss ways to better educate black males, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Pasco superintendent backs candidate who opposes school impact fee increases

In press releases and robocalls, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has endorsed County Commission candidate Mike Moore, who is on the record as being opposed to tax and fee increases – including to the school impact fees which Browning and his administration have backed.

The district has seen its enrollment grow lately after a few static years, and officials have planned new schools to cope with the increase. Revenue from higher impact fees on new construction could help pay for the construction.

Browning's administration has been researching the possibilities, which would depend upon a commission vote. On Wednesday, Browning said he stands by his backing of Moore, one of three Republican candidates seeking to replace the retiring Pat Mulieri in Commission District 2.

Moore said at an early August candidate forum that he was "not for raising" school impact fees.

That did not dissuade the superintendent.

"The candidate assured him that he would be open to considering input on fee increases, but the district would have to make the case," school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said for Browning.

Reached while campaigning, Moore backed Browning's view. …

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ELL test warning not the first for Florida

Florida officials could not have been too surprised at the U.S. Department of Education's recent warning that the state's stance on test scores for English-language learners would not withstand federal scrutiny.

They have, in fact, heard it before.

In an April letter to Florida commissioner Pam Stewart, U.S. assistant education secretary Deborah Delisle noted that the rules on counting the test scores had been in place since the outset, and the onus was on Florida -- not the feds -- to change.

"I appreciate Florida's efforts to be in compliance with federal law and, at the same time, address the concerns of its constituents," Delisle wrote at the time. "However, consistent with the reasons ED conditioned Florida's original approval of ESEA flexibility, I am declining to exercise my authority to grant the waivers that you have requested."

Knowing this, the bigger question is why the USDOE extended Florida's waiver of the No Child Left Behind rules, Education Week writer Lesli Maxwell suggested: …

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East Windsor kids placed in new schools

The dozens of children who were kicked out of a charter school days before the first day of school were all placed in new schools by late Tuesday, a Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman said.

Melanie Marquez Parra said that 33 studied who were enrolled in East Windsor on Thursday and no longer enrolled there have been assigned to a new school in Pinellas, Parra said.

However, Pinellas was unsure if this captured all the students leaving the charter school after it held a second lottery for students on Thursday.

"There could be other students currently shown as enrolled at East Windsor but their parent requested and received a reservation at a traditional public school," Parra said in an email. "If they have not gone to the (new) school yet to complete their child's enrollment," they would still show up as enrolled at East Windsor.

Parra said there could also be more students who were promised seats at East Windsor but that the charter did not technically enroll by putting the children's information into the computer system.

"If any of those students contacted Student Assignment seeking a (new school assignment), they received one," Parra said.

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Pasco School Board member proposes easing student-athlete transfer rules

Pasco County School Board vice chairman Steve Luikart's push to revamp the board's student-athlete transfer policy has created a stir among district leaders, who are seeking more details as they head to a second workshop on the subject.

"I got the sense there's more to the story," said chairwoman Alison Crumbley.

Luikart pointed out that his concerns arose when approached by a mom who used to be one of his students when he worked at Ridgewood High. She wants her son, who has attended four high schools in four years, to play sports at Ridgewood. A district appeal committee, and then the superintendent's representative, denied the application.

Luikart argued that the district should not use sports participation punitively. He suggested that the student's mom had lived in the Ridgewood zone all along, and her son enrolled appropriately over the summer, so the boy should be able to play.

He proposed modifying the district policy, which the board adopted unanimously a year ago, to give more specific definitions to types of transfers. Notably, Luikart recommended these terms for "enrolled students": …

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Florida education news: Testing, student-athletes, junk food and more

TESTING DISPUTE: Florida and the federal government disagree over the state's rules about when to count test scores of students still learning English.

SMOOTHER START: The Pasco school district's new call center, paired with other improvements to the student transportation system, leads to fewer problems and complaints in the first days back to school.

STUDENT-ATHLETES: A Pasco School Board member questions the fairness of the district's student-athlete transfer policy.

CHARTER WOES: Parents don't know how to proceed now that their Miami-Dade charter school is being closed, NBC Miami reports. • Two Palm Beach charter schools fail to open for lack of enrollment, the Palm Beach Post reports.

JUNK FOOD: The Duval School Board will consider setting a policy for junk food fund raisers even as the federal government increases nutritional standards for school lunches, the Florida Times-Union reports.

BUS RIDES: The St. Lucie school system will allow students who live closer than 2 miles from school to pay for bus rides, the St. Lucie Tribune reports.

GOING CHARTER: A Polk Montessori school seeks to become a charter, the Ledger reports. …

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More kids in Hillsborough schools

Hillsborough County's school district is on track to grow again, according to first-day enrollment numbers.

The district said 190,814 students reported to school, up nearly 4,000 from the first day of school in 2013. While it's too soon to say how many were in charter schools and how many in district-run schools, the district expects both populations to grow, reaching a total of approximately 205,000 when families return from summer vacations.

Enrollment has been growing for the past three years.

The district also was pleased with its new relationship with kelly Services, which now provides substitute teachers. The system filled 99.6 percent of openings on Tuesday, up from less than 80 percent under the old system.

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