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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Thank you


“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

 - Carl Jung


No news roundup today. Just a dash of inspiration and a heaping plate of gratitude for you, our treasured readers.

Happy Thanksgiving


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Race surfaces again on college campuses, the feds investigate Duval schools, and more

RACE ON CAMPUS: A Facebook page promoting a “UCF White Student Union” has appeared online, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The paper also references a Washington Post report about more than 30 similar Facebook groups at schools around the country. The Gainesville Sun reports that the University of Florida is working with Facebook to remove a “white student union” page that uses the school’s name and logo without permission. Florida State University deals with a similar issue, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

FEDERAL INVESTIGATION: Busy day Tuesday at the Florida Times-Union, which reported that the Duval County school district is the subject of a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education. The agency will “examine whether the district fails to provide African American and Hispanic students with equitable access to quality education.” In other news, the Times-Union reports that the local NAACP chapter has countered Duval superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s plans to revamp a number of schools, saying it has its own list of ideas for change. …

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The governor's budget, Marco Rubio, suspensions and more

THAT TIME OF YEAR: Gov. Rick Scott announces his $79.3 billion budget for next year, saying it includes a “historic” increase for education. But critics say 85 percent of the increase comes from property tax increases on homeowners and businesses.

THE ART OF TEACHING: As a part-time teacher at Florida International University, Marco Rubio drew rave reviews in class but fell short when it came to the educational grunt work of developing reading lists and grading papers and tests.

TRANSPARENCY: A bill sponsored by state Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, would require the state to come clean on state education budgets that rely on local property tax increases, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

NOT ENOUGH: Lake County education officials say Scott’s budget proposal falls short in a county that already receives lower than the average per-student allocation, the Daily Commercial reports.

COST SHARING: Audits uncover thousands of dollars in overpayments to construction companies, but the high cost of conducting them has the Indian River School Board wanting to pass audit costs on to contractors, TCPalm reports. …

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Critics: Scott's budget shifts larger investments in K-12 education to homeowners, businesses

One of Gov. Rick Scott's main initiatives in his 2016-17 proposal is more investments in education -- specifically $500 million he proposes to add to funding for K-12 public schools.

But Scott is getting swift blow-back from critics, because 85 percent of that extra funding would be shouldered not by the state, but through local property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

Of the $507.3 million suggested increase, $80 million -- or 15 percent -- is state dollars, while $427.3 million would come from the "required local effort."

In touting his proposal to make an "historic investment in education," Scott vows that Floridians' "will not see an increase in your millage rate."

However, that doesn't mean businesses and homeowners won't see a larger tax bill. As property values rebound statewide, the amount property owners pay in taxes also increases, even if the tax rate remains the same.

Read more on The Buzz.

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Gov. Scott proposes to increase university performance funding - with caveat

In his 2016-17 budget proposal the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott wants to continue holding the line on tuition for Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges, while also devoting $120 million more toward performance-based funding for those institutions.

But half of the $100 million Scott wants to add to university performance incentives next year would actually come from the universities themselves.

Only $50 million of the proposed increase would come from new funding, while the other $50 million is proposed to come out of the 12 universities' base operating budgets.

Performance funding is doled out to each university based on how well each institution "performs" on 10 metrics, including average cost per graduate, percent of graduates employed or continuing education and the institution's six-year graduation rate.

Read more on The Buzz blog.

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Marching band, self-driving cars, a big summit and more

HELP ON THE WAY? The Hillsborough County school system aims to improve its most challenging schools, and troubled Sligh Middle is first on the "priority" list.

MARCHING AHEAD: With the Paris attacks in mind, the Gulf Coast High School Marcing Band arrives in NYC for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade with a thorough security plan, the Naples Daily News reports.

PROGRESS: Researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have started a 14-month research project on self-driving cars for the Florida Department of Education, Associated Press reports.

GETTING TOGETHER: High school students meet with school board members and community leaders to share ideas at a summit Saturday in Lee County, the News-Press reports.

GIRLS AND SCIENCE: The “Girls Who Code” program at FSU Panama City focuses on teaching computer coding to female students in grades 6-12, the Panama City News Herald reports.

MAKING MUSIC: The nonprofit Music for Your Heart Foundation connects schools, teachers and parents with music professionals, sponsors and companies, the Miami Herald reports.

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More about the Idlewild controversy

The Hillsborough school district says that many churches, not just Idlewild Baptist Church, support the schools. Here are volunteers from Relevant Church washing teachers' cars at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in 2013.


The Hillsborough school district says that many churches, not just Idlewild Baptist Church, support the schools. Here are volunteers from Relevant Church washing teachers' cars at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in 2013.

Our coverage of Idlewild Baptist Church's work in the Hillsborough County schools struck a nerve among some district employees who want more details. In particular, they want to know more about Friday's letter from the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Here's the letter, which is a public record, along with this description of work the church and the district have discussed that can be done in various schools.

For more information about the church's work at Just Elementary, here is a doctoral dissertation by Lynette Henry, a former district employee and now an assistant professor at George Mason University.

Separate from the initial articule and a follow-up Gradebook post about the coffee coupons, the Times has published opinion pieces that both support and oppose the relationship. …

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Religion, contract talks, charter schools and more

TOO MUCH? In Tampa, leaders of the Jewish Community Relations Council tell school officials they are concerned that the district's partnership with a Baptist church crosses the line.

STATE OF THE UNIONS: Two big school district in Tampa Bay, two completely different situations. Following last week's resounding contract rejection, leaders of the Pinellas County teachers union think they now have a deal the membership will like. In Hillsborough, meanwhile, bitterness sets in as contract talks break down and the district says raises wouldn't be retroactive to July. In Volusia County, the district and teachers are still at odds over a contract, and the sticking point is insuurance.

CHARTERS: Another move is afoot to put the state in charge of approving charter schools, Travis Pillow of redefinED reports.

WE'RE GOOD: The University of Florida pays the federal government $20 million to settle allegations it played loose with grant money, Associated Press reports.

MORE STEM: A new STEM college will open at USF Sarasota-Manatee in the fall of 2016, the Bradenton Herald reports. …

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Egdecomb: I will continue to be a voice for all children

At Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting, vice  chair Doretha Edgecomb gave outgoing chair Susan Valdes this certificate of gratitude for  service. Minutes later Valdes and three other members voted to make April Griffin the next chair instead of Edgecomb.


At Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting, vice chair Doretha Edgecomb gave outgoing chair Susan Valdes this certificate of gratitude for service. Minutes later Valdes and three other members voted to make April Griffin the next chair instead of Edgecomb.

Addressing the Tampa Bay Times for the first time since she was denied the Hillsborough County School Board chairmanship on Tuesday, Doretha Edgecomb declined to speculate as to why the board instead chose April Griffin.

"This is not to be flippant, but you would have to ask that question to the people who were part of taking that action," she said. "I was not a part of it."

When asked that question on Tuesday, Susan Valdes and April Griffin said the board discussed the issue of succession at a retreat on Nov. 13.

But they mostly talked about the mechanics and the procedures, not whether Edgecomb was worthy of the post. "There was never a conclusion," Edgecomb said.

For more than 20 years, the board has rotated the position of chair, giving it to the previous year's vice chair. The vote is largely a formality. This year, if tradition had held, the spot would have gone to Edgecomb.

Instead Valdes, Griffin, Cindy Stuart and Sally Harris - the same four who fired MaryEllen Elia as superintendent and hired Jeff Eakins to replace her - voted to install Griffin as chair and Stuart as vice chair. …

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Florida House member wants education commissioner to be elected again

News Service of Florida
A House Republican on Friday proposed a constitutional amendment that would lead to Florida returning to an elected education commissioner who would be part of the state Cabinet.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, filed the proposal (HJR 767) for consideration during the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January. If passed by the Legislature, the proposal would need to gain approval from 60 percent of Florida voters.

The state in the past had an elected education commissioner who sat on the Cabinet, but that ended after voters in 1998 approved a ballot measure to restructure the Cabinet. The 1998 constitutional amendment also created the appointed state Board of Education, which names a commissioner.

Mayfield's proposal would lead to the governor and Cabinet serving as the state Board of Education, eliminating the appointed panel.

Below is the text of a news release this afternoon from Mayfield's office: …

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Army vet denied readmission to USF, possible new start times in Manatee and more

'I DON'T LIKE YOU PEOPLE': A Hillsborough County judge urges the University of South Florida to let a former U.S. Army Green Beret be readmitted to finish his degree, despite his menacing behavior toward a Muslim gas station clerk last year. The school says no to the decorated combat vet, but offers to help him transfer elsewhere.

SLEEPING IN? Manatee County considers changing school start times, and an 8 a.m. first bell for high school is one of the options, the Bradenton Herald reports.

TELL IT TO THE MEDIATOR: Lake County teachers file a grievance, complaining about a lack of planning time, the Daily Commercial reports.

PUBLIC BUSINESS: Bay County School Board votes to have one of its monthly meetings at 4 p.m. to allow for more public involvement, the Panama City News Herald reports.

NEW EXPERIENCE: A Collier County civic group takes disadvantaged third graders to see the beach for the first time, the Naples Daily News reports. …

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Best high schools in Florida? U.S. News & World Report offers its rankings

Fewer than a dozen Tampa Bay area public high schools showed up in U.S. News & World Report's 2015 rankings of the best Florida high schools, with Plant High in Tampa leading the pack at No. 17.

Following Plant, which ranked No. 263 nationally, were Tampa Bay Tech High at No. 38 in Florida, Robinson High at No. 44, Sickles High at No. 48, Plant City High at No. 104 and Jefferson High at No. 133. All are Hillsborough County schools.

Pasco County had its share of schools that scored well enough in the publication's formula to achieve a state ranking. Land O' Lakes High came in at No. 50, Mitchell High at No. 66, Gulf High at No. 88 and Hudson High at No. 129 in the state.

Pinellas County had only one high school ranked in the state: Palm Harbor University High School at No. 43 in Florida and No. 639 in the US. …

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Unable to document how money was spent, a charter school company pays it back

Newpoint Education Partners, the company that owns and operates five charter schools in Pinellas County, vowed earlier this month to produce a “complete expenditure report” detailing how it spent a $75,000 federal grant designated for one of its schools.

Newpoint imposed its own deadline of Nov. 15 to get the report regarding East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg over to the Pinellas County school district. Instead, a check was sent Monday to the district in the amount of $75,000.

Eileen Quinlan, Newpoint's executive director of operations, said in an email Wednesday that East Windsor had difficulty getting the required information from its former accounting firm.

"Following the complete review this month, it was determined the former accounting firm had not followed all the necessary procedures in documenting expenses for the grant," she wrote. "This resulted in none of the expenses being grant eligible." …

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Third graders and reading, the growth of IB, fighting homlessness and more

LEARNING TO READ: As Florida's third-grade reading scores staff, the House moves to intervene with struggling readers, get parents more involved and mandate new teaching approaches.

They're everywhere in Florida, and growing, especially in elementary and middle schools, StateImpact Florida reports.

A Manatee High School soccer player fights homelessness, the Bradenton Herald reports.

More girls taking part in competitive weightlifting, the Daily Commercial reports.

Contract, teacher raises approved by Martin County School Board, TCPalm reports.

Bonita Springs council widens search for new high school site, the Naples Daily News reports.

After closing, Medical College moves to sell its assets, the Miami Herald reports.

Should the Brevard board members get one? One board member says no, Florida Today reports.

Details emerge after Lee County board fires accused teacher, the News-Press reports.

Review blames Palm Beach County's school busing problems on "perfect storm" of problems, the Palm Beach Post and the Sun Sentinel report.

UCF students stage sit-in to show solidarity with protests at University of Missouri, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

: Escambia County to review school bus hazing incident, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

Senate panel signs off on a measure that would boost Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, redefinED reports.

Flagler College pitches plan today for new dorms, parking garage, the St. Augustine Record reports.

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This coffee controversy is not about Starbucks

Our story this week about Idlewild Baptist Church's evolving relationship with the Hillsborough County school district generated a lot of reaction on both sides of the issue. It is, after all, November.

One email arrived from a school district employee who was concerned that the church was handing out free coffee coupons during staff gatherings at Maniscalco Elementary School. There was no commentary, just this pair of images.

Inquiries to the school district generated this response from spokeswoman Tanya Arja:

Yes, Idlewild offers its coffee cart service to area schools. It's the church's way of thanking teachers for their hard work by donating something that would be expensive if schools had to pay for it. During two after-school meetings at Maniscalco, Idlewild set up the coffee service. The coupons were left sitting on the cart for anyone to take. "They set up in an empty classroom, and they let people know who the coffee was from," Arja said.

No one was required to go into the classroom.

Then again, the gesture clearly troubled the employee who sent us the coupons.





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