Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

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.

The Tampa Bay Times surveyed school districts that year and found that average earnings for Hillsborough's ESE aides were among the lowest in the state. High turnover appeared to be a factor, as the district employed many temporary employees who did not have a chance to advance up the pay scale.

In 2013 the district reclassified the ESE aides and attendants to paraprofessionals and created two new categories, both with higher starting pay. But the lowest category kept a starting wage of $8.42. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Negotiations will continue into August. Other issues under discussion include:

* Allowing domestic partners to purchase health insurance at the same rate as married couples. Other large Hillsborough school districts already do this, said executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins.

* The union wants to increase the ratio of kindergarten aides to classrooms from one in seven to one in five.

* District officials want to clarify protections they offer teachers who take a leave to teach at a charter school. They want to distinguish between Hillsborough charters, where they typically are able to verify employment; and out-of-town charters, which sometimes close abruptly, making verification more difficult. …

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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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Florida's newest vouchers prove popular

They may be controversial. But Florida's new personal learning scholarship accounts -- the state's latest vouchers for students with profound disabilities -- are also popular among the families that can use them.

Step Up For Students, the organization that administers the PLSA's along with corporate tax-credit scholarships, sent out a release Thursday to note that about 1,100 families had applied for the new account in the first week of availability. Lawmakers set aside about $18 million for the program, enough to cover close to 1,800 children.

The scholarships are available for students who fall into one of eight specific categories of disabilities. Parents can use the money for private school, among other options, as well as to pay for future college costs.

Parents can apply here.

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Are longer days best for low-performing schools?

In trying to infuse an added hour of reading into the day for its lowest-performing schools, the Pasco County school district might be running afoul of state law. That law makes clear that the schools must add the hour "beyond the normal school day," not within it.

Even so, Pasco leaders might be on to something.

The Hechinger Report details how a Connecticut district tried and abandoned longer school days for its lowest-performing school, finding the model ineffective. From the article: …

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Florida education news: FCAT cheating, teacher credentials, extended school day and more

TESTING: Bay Point Elementary in Pinellas faces a state investigation into suspected FCAT cheating on the fourth grade math test.

CREDENTIALS: Five additional Hillsborough teachers face dismissal for failure to earn needed certification for the teaching of English language learners.

READING LESSONS: Three low-performing Pasco elementary schools plan to add an hour of state-mandated reading instruction without extending the school day as required in law. • Broward schools prepare to add an hour to their day despite some parent dislike of the idea, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SECURITY: Florida lawmakers should consider funding more resource officers at elementary schools, the Herald-Tribune editorializes. • Revenue from a half-percent sales tax would help increase security measures at Volusia schools, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • Escambia district officials discuss ways to reduce arrests in schools, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

MUSIC: Broward schools seek to buy $2.5 million in new musical instruments, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Hillsborough's McLane Middle School sends scores of students to expulsion hearings

McLane Middle School recommended 35 students for expulsion this past year - far more than any other school in Hillsborough County, according to a report that went out to the School Board this week.

To put that number in perspective, it's rougly one in every 26 students. Districtwide, including special education students who cannot be expelled, the number works out to one in every 400.

McLane has been in Brandon, in one form or another, for a full century. In addition to local students, the district buses students to McLane from east Tampa. The school has a STEM program and a competitive robotics team. The school's poverty rate, measured by participation in the free lunch program, is 86 percent, and the minority population is 84 percent according to the state.

Looking at the past year's climate surveys, conditions at McLane are not up to par with the rest of the district. The overall student satisfaction rate was 54 percent, compared with 75 percent districtwide. Only 23 percent of McLane's students felt safe, compared with 69 percent districtwide. Teachers gave the school a 54 percent approval rate, compared with 77 percent for all middle schools and 80 percent districtwide. The numbers were especially low in student conduct, with only 3 percent of teachers agreeing with the statement: "Students at this school follow rules of conduct."

Districtwide, the number of expulsion hearings dropped this year, a trend that has existed for the last five years. And the majority (345) were recommended for a change of placement. Another 109 could not be expelled because they are in special education.

Of the remaining 391, 10 were in elementary school, all male and seven of them African-American. The largest number, 292, were in middle schools. Of that group, 56 percent (164) were black. In the high schools, the 164 students recommended for expulsion included 69 who were black -- or 42 percent. Wharton High had the most at 15, followed by Chamberlain, which had 12. Drugs were the most common cause of an expulsion hearing in high school while in middle school it was a category called "continuous disruptive."

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Pasco School Board prepares for budget adoption

Pasco County School Board members had few questions or concerns this week as they made final preparations for their July 29 public hearing on the 2014-15 budget.

The $1.2 billion spending plan calls for a small tax rate decrease, to 7.149 mills, and projects to be balanced without eliminating jobs or cutting programs.

"It is so nice at this point in the year to say we have a balanced budget," board member Joanne Hurley said.

Hurley and others praised the finance staff for consistently providing accurate forecasts, maintaining adequate reserves and generally keeping the district out of trouble while many other districts, such as Walton and Manatee, continue to struggle with money issues. Board members did not anticipate major changes to the budget plan as it moves forward.

Some interesting numbers to contemplate:

- Pasco's taxable property value increased to $22.4 billion, up 4.77 percent from a year ago but well below the historic high of $29.7 billion in 2007.

- The district's projected enrollment is 67,955, up 925 from a year ago and up nearly 2,500 from 2007. …

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New principals named at Tarpon Springs High and Tarpon Springs Middle

New principals have been selected for open posts at Tarpon Springs High School and Tarpon Springs Middle School.

James Joyer, an assistant principal and magnet coordinator at Boca Ciega High, will lead Tarpon Springs High. Raquel Payne Giles, a central office administrator in the Tuscaloosa school system, will lead Tarpon Springs Middle. Both of the moves were approved Tuesday by the Pinellas County School Board. 

The former principal at Tarpon Springs High, Clint Herbic, was tapped for a central administrative position. The former principal at Tarpon Springs Middle, Susan Keller, is retiring in October. Keller will be mentoring new principals until then. 

Joyer began working in the Pinellas County school system in 1988. He was a long-time assistant principal, working in that role since 1995 at Madeira Beach Middle, Meadowlawn Middle, Northeast High and finally Boca Ciega High. He has a bachelor's degree in marketing education from the University of South Florida and a master's degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. …

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Pasco raises count on end to early retirement plan

Proposed raises for Pasco County school employees, currently projected at 1 percent, depend upon a controversial cut that the United School Employees of Pasco rejected as recently as a year ago.

A budget presentation to the School Board on Tuesday showed that just under half of the $3.4 million the administration has tagged as available for salary increases would come from ending the district's early retirement program. That program, in place since 1997, has been used to supplement the retirement pay of certain workers who left the district shy of full vesting in the state pension system.

The administration proposed killing that program last year, but relented in the final days of negotiations.

USEP president Kenny Blankenship said he wasn't thrilled that the concept had popped up again in the district's budget, which gets its first official reading on July 29, even as it has not arrived at the negotiating table. He deemed it a "tactic" by which the administration could blame the USEP for shrinking raises if the union does not agree.

He told the School Board that negotiations are not going well. …

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Florida education news: Magnet schools, crossing guards, report cards and more

NEW DIRECTION: The Pinellas School Board decides to add more magnet schools and stop the fundamental schools movement.

CAREER CAMP: Pasco-Hernando State College teaches seventh- through ninth-graders about future job possibilities.

OUTSOURCED: Sarasota privatizes its school crossing guard service, the Herald-Tribune reports.

PADDLING: School districts in Florida and other states slowly abandon corporal punishment, USA Today reports.

COMPETITIVE PAY: Three Broward administrators receive 22 percent raises after a heated School Board debate, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • The Bay School Board gives $10,000 bonuses to principals at schools in need, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SCHOOL LUNCH: Healthier food might cost Brevard students more in the cafeteria, Florida Today reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Duval schools join a national effort to improve the success rate of minority males, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TOO LONG: Some central Florida parents oppose extending their children's elementary school day by an hour, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

HOW DID YOU DO? Some Osceola high school students have yet to receive their report cards, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Brooksville middle school lands band instructor, keeping program alive

BROOKSVILLE - Parrott Middle School has a new band director.

After months of anticipation and worry that the program might fold, principal Brent Gaustad on Tuesday announced that he has hired former Central High band director Luke Cramer, who had been let go from Central after the band and chorus program dissolved because of low enrollment.

Numerous parents had expressed concern about he future of Parrott's program and the negative impact it would have on Hernando High's band if it ended.

Gaustad said he had a difficult time filling the position because he also needed the person to double as a math teacher. Cramer, who accepted the job last week, fit the bill.

For this year, Cramer will teach two band classes - beginning and advanced - consisting of about 60 students. He will teach three periods of math.

Gaustad hopes to eventually make the band position full time.

Click here to read the full story.

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Pinellas School Board offers support to expanding magnet offerings

With a few pointed questions, the Pinellas School Board on Tuesday indicated a willingness to add at least five new magnet schools to the system.

The move aims to expand student diversity at several schools that have become racially and economically identifiable.

Board members raised concerns about the types of programs being offered, as well as the way the offerings are presented to the general public. Some of them wanted to stop calling the magnets "school choice" programs, for example, instead referring to them as "district application programs."

Read the developing story here.

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Still no word on Florida's NCLB waiver extension request

When Florida first received its waiver from federal No Child Left Behind rules, it agreed to include the test scores of students still learning English when rating school performance.

Activists fought back, saying that inclusion of results from students who clearly still struggled with the language. In the past, those children's outcomes were not used in accountability measures until after they had at least two years' worth of learning in English.

The state's request to renew its NCLB waiver reflected a desire to return to that time frame. State lawmakers even changed the law to reflect the policy of waiting two years before counting those students' proficiency scores.

It's apparently not an easy issue for the feds: While other states have won their renewals, Florida has sat and waited.

"We have applied for an extension through the 2014-15 school year, but we have not received word on whether our request has been approved yet," spokeswoman Claudia Claussen told the Gradebook.

Florida's waiver expired on June 30.

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Florida education news: Charter schools, education funding, extended days and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Hillsborough district officials project a 15 percent increase in charter school enrollment, which could millions in funding away from traditional schools.

FINANCIAL WOES: The Walton school district continues to face added public pressure on its budget after past problems became known, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. 

SCHOOL CHOICE: Marion's proposed open-enrollment policy would not take effect until 2015 and would not provide as many choices as parents might expect, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

SUPPORT YOUR SCHOOL: North Bay residents ask leaders of their local elementary school to keep the IB program despite its drop from C to D in state grading, the Miami Herald reports.

LONGER DAYS: Bay teachers demand more information about a plan to have all schools provide an extra hour of daily instruction, the Panama City News Herald reports.

DUAL ENROLLMENT: Bethune-Cookman University seeks to offer courses to Volusia high school juniors and seniors, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

WHAT HAPPENED? The Lee School Board will investigate the situation that prompted a popular principal to abruptly resign, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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