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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Catching up on cut scores, teacher shortages and more

MAKING THE CUT: The Palm Beach Post takes a look at the debate over passing scores for the state’s new standardized tests.

RESHUFFLING: A shortage of 70 teacher positions forces Lee County schools into some post-Thanksgiving staffing changes, the News Press reports.

INVENTION: A University of Central Florida doctoral student is working on a portable drug testing device that could come in handy for law enforcement officers, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

THE SAGA CONTINUES: A key hearing is set for Jan. 28 in the case of Bob Gagnon, the former Manatee County assistant superintendent who sued the school district for defamation, the Bradenton Herald reports.

HAS IT BEEN THAT LONG? With a small milestone today, Florida Gulf Coast University starts the countdown to its 20th anniversary celebration in 2017, the Naples Daily News reports.

SORTING IT OUT: Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s plan for a new pre-K-5 autism center is debated in Duval County, the Florida Times-Union reports.

FIRED UP: Broward deals with fallout from proposed boundary changes and new programs, the Sun Sentinel reports.

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More on Rick Scott's education budget, an FSU official speaks under oath, and more

PERSPECTIVE: If the Legislature approved the proposed  education budget that Gov. Rick Scott describes as "historic," Florida still would rank among the nation’s lowest on spending per student, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

ON THE RECORD: A public records request in the Jameis Winston case yields the June deposition of a Florida State University official who says football players at the school receive special treatment, Associated Press reports.

PUBLIC PROPERTY: Miami-Dade officials say a school site could fetch $54 million, and that proceeds would be used to finance an expansion of Design Architecture Senior High, the Miami Herald reports.

GIVING, UP CLOSE: For the culinary students at Forest Hill High in West Palm Beach, Thanksgiving donations go beyond the traditional canned food drive, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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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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