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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Clements is re-elected as Hillsborough teachers union president

Jean Clements will continue on as president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

Jean Clements will continue on as president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

Jean Clements, the high-profile leader of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, has been re-elected for another term.

Clements, 59, has been the president since 2002. She led the union during the recession, and during Hillsborough's transition to Empowering Effective Teachers, the Gates-funded evaluation and mentoring system. Before Clements became a union leader she taught exceptional student education and headed the ESE department at Plant High School.

Her opponent, fourth grade teacher Amy Gabriel, tried to make the case that teachers needed a representative who had more recent experience in the classroom. But she picked up only 538 votes, or 31 percent of those cast. Clements, with 1,177 votes, took 69 percent.

Hillsborough County has approximately 15,000 teachers, not including other instructional employees also represented by the union.


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Florida lawmaker asks Department of Education for testing technology inventory

The wheels are turning in Tallahassee to verify what Florida school districts have been saying about their technology needs.

On the heels of a bill pushing for independent proof of schools' readiness, the chairman of Senate Education Appropriations has asked commissioner Pam Stewart for lots of details regarding what technology school districts should have, and do have.

With $80 million proposed in the education technology budget, Sen. Don Gaetz reasoned, there needs to be some rationale for the proposed amount and its intended use. Here's what he's seeking:

1. Please identify statewide technical standards or guidance that the Department of Education has provided to districts and schools to support the delivery of the online test assessments and digital classroom requirements as directed by statute.

2. Please provide an inventory, by school and district, of the current statewide technology resources.

3. Please compare the inventory to the statewide technical standards and identify any gaps discovered by school and by district. …

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What are Florida superintendents saying about computerized testing?

Florida's new computerized Florida Standards Assessments begin Monday. In the ramp up to testing, the state Department of Education had superintendents run "load tests" and certify whether their schools can handle the demands. 

To take a page from Gov. Rick Scott's press releases, here's WHAT THEY ARE SAYING....

More than a quarter of Florida superintendents raise concerns that students, teachers and schools are not ready for the spring testing cycle.

Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego …

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Florida education news: Taxes, teacher contracts, service dogs and more

TAXES: State Republican leaders suggest Florida Gov. Rick Scott's record education budget is based on tax hikes.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Hillsborough School Board prepares to offer a contract to Jeff Eakins by its June 9 meeting. • The Volusia School Board will interview consulting groups before picking a firm to help find a new superintendent, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Palm Beach School Board rejects a plan to keep superintendent applicants' names private, the Palm Beach Post reports.

CLASS SIZE: Florida lawmakers need to refine the rules governing the state's class size amendment, the Panama City News Herald editorializes.

TESTING: The Monroe teachers union joins the call for changes to Florida's testing and accountability system, the Keynoter reports.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: A court allows a Broward child with severe disabilities to bring his service dog to school over the wishes of the school district, the Miami Herald reports.

BOUNDARIES: A proposal to redraw attendance zones for Coral Gables elementary schools has upset parents who don't like the potential outcome, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Florida schools to receive recognition funds

Through the flush times and the thin, Florida lawmakers never strayed from their recognition funding plan, giving extra money to schools that earned an A grade from the state or showed significant gains in student performance.

The amount per student rose and fell, but the program never faltered.

This week, the state announced the distribution of the money for last year's results. More than 1,500 schools will get about $124 million, which can go toward employee bonuses, school supplies or temporary staffing. Each year, the vast majority goes to employees.

See the amounts each district will get below.

School District

Award Amount

School District

Award Amount















































Palm Beach




















St. Johns

$2,572,747 …

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Florida Senate bill seeks outside proof of school districts' technology readiness

As more Florida school districts say they aren't technologically ready for computerized testing, one key lawmaker has pointedly questioned their reports.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg noted during a recent hearing that superintendents whisper about problems as they sign their names certifying readiness. Now, he's filed a bill aiming to take the system out of their hands.

SB 1264 would have an independent state agency set standards for school technology needs, and also assess whether districts meet the mark. In order to receive state technology funding districts would have to undergo this verification.

"Not a lot of us have a lot of confidence in what the districts are reporting," Legg said, adding the state wants to have "truth in data" before pouring more money into the system.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed putting $80 million into school technology during the coming fiscal year. We expect a lively discussion about how that money would be spent, with issues such as internet connectivity in rural areas among the many demands. This bill, a sequel to last year's Digital Classroom legislation, could influence the debate. Stay tuned.

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Pasco school district departments cut costs to cover testing expenses

End-of-course exams in every subject area are fast approaching, as part of a Florida state mandate to evaluate teachers using student performance data.

Pasco County schools have the tests ready. But officials are concerned that they don't have the technology to offer all the assessments online. They want to make the tests available on paper instead.

Doing so isn't a simple process, though. It involves test security, for one thing, so teachers can't be accused of manipulating the system. The district assessment department describes its needs in a memo to the School Board in this way:

"In order to provide this support and stay in compliance with statute, the department will provide schools with the paper-based assessments centrally. The District EOCs will be printed by an outside vendor currently on the bid list. Costs have been anticipated to print, bind, package, and ship to each school in the district. Ricoh copiers will be acquired to print and scan answer sheets at the district level. Temporary staff will be hired to fulfill these tasks and substitute funding will be provided to schools to assist with the test administration process." …

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Florida education news: Testing, computers, vouchers and more

ONE LESS TEST: Florida Gov. Rick Scott follows through with an executive order suspending the state's 11th-grade language arts exam. Juniors are happy.

RECOGNITION: Melrose Elementary teacher Kim Lopez is Pinellas Teacher of the Year. • Williams Middle School teacher Diane McKee is Hillsborough Teacher of the Year.

COMPUTERIZED TESTING: A growing number of Florida superintendents detail the reasons their districts are not ready for online Florida Standards Assessments, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Gov. Rick Scott says he believes in the current system, while Florida Education Association leaders raise more challenges, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. • More from the Bradenton Herald.

LABOR NEWS: FEA president Andy Ford seeks respect for teachers among legislative leaders, SaintPetersblog reports. • The Marion School Board approves employee raises, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • Polk teachers keep fighting the district over provisions of their salary schedule, the Ledger reports.

VOUCHERS: Florida is a national leader in giving state money directly to families for school choice options, Education Week reports. …

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Education commissioner names 10-member Keep Florida Learning Committee

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart has named the members of her Keep Florida Learning Committee, designed to review "deregulation opportunities" and identify more parental choice options in public schools, among other goals.

The members, selected from about 2,800 applicants, are:

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart

2015 Florida Teacher of the Year: Christie Bassett, Polk County

Legislator: Representative Manny Díaz, Jr., a Hialeah Republican who works for a charter school firm and heads the House Choice and Innovation Committee

Principal: Dr. Margaret Fahringer, Miami-Dade County

Teacher: Doris Garcia, Orange County

Parent: Julia (Megan) Hendricks, Pasco County, a "concerned parent" with interests in testing issues

School Board Member: Patty Hightower, Escambia County, president of the Florida School Boards Association

Higher Education Participant: Joe Pickens, Putnam County, president of St. Johns River State College and a former lawmaker

Superintendent: Dr. Owen Roberts, Alachua County

Legislator: Senator Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican whose husband serves on a charter school board of directors 

Parent: Laura Zorc, Indian River County, a Common Core opponent …

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Which Florida school district has the highest average teacher salary?

It's Sarasota.

Data recently compiled by the Florida Department of Education shows that Sarasota teachers get paid, on average, $58,093 per year in 2013-14, nearly $2,000 more than the next closest district, Monroe.

Fifteen districts logged in above the state average of $47,780, including Hillsborough County, No. 10 of 75 traditional and special districts at $50,113. Other local districts were Pinellas $46,256 (No. 22), Hernando $43,788, and Pasco $40,602 (No. 69).

You might wonder, how much does the average salary connect to teacher longevity on the job. After all, more veteran teachers get paid more.

The state data shows the average years of experience across Florida is 12.13 years. Sarasota comes in just below that, at 12.11 years. Lafayette County, with the 20th highest average salary, was at the top of the experience chart, with an average teacher tenure of 15.09 years.

Pinellas was No. 11, with 13.55 years. Pasco logged in at No. 28, with 12.37 years. Hernando was 35th, with 12.01 years. And Hillsborough, which had the highest average salary in the Tampa region, had the lowest experience rate, with 10.37 years (No. 57). …

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Rick Scott signs executive order to suspend 11th grade exam

Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order on Tuesday suspending the new 11th grade exam in English language arts. 

The action comes in response to a growing backlash from parents and teachers to the state's standardized testing program.

Scott announced his plans to sign the executive order last week. The lag caused some confusion, as local school districts were told to continue preparing for the Florida Standards Assessment exam until a formal executive order was issued.

Leaders in the Florida Senate are also working on a plan to overhaul testing.

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No shots, no school if measles hits Pasco County public schools

Pasco County school district leaders fully accept that parents have the right to opt their children out of medical vaccinations for reasons cited in state law. In 2013-14, slightly less than 7 percent of Florida kindergartners did not receive their immunizations, with Pasco's rate lower at about 1.7 percent.

That doesn't mean those children get to stay in school, though, if the campus has been exposed to measles or other highly contagious diseases for which shots are available.

Superintendent Kurt Browning and county health officer Michael Napier have sent a letter to parents letting them know that, if a case of measles arises, parents will have to find somewhere else for their children to go -- for at least three weeks. They write:

"Parents without documentation of required immunizations should be aware that a case of measles in their child's school will require all children without documented proof of immunization or immunity to be excluded immediately from attending school for a minimum of 21 days from the time of exposure or longer should additional cases occur."

Read the full letter here. …

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Florida education news: Elections, suspensions, graduations and more

TRANSITION: At a party celebrating her 10-year tenure, outgoing Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia tells friends that "elections matter." • Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn stands by his comments calling the School Board members who ousted Elia "mean girls."

LEADERSHIP: An Orange County elementary school leader is named Florida principal of the year, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

DISCIPLINE: A new report shows Florida leads the nation in suspending students with disabilities at the secondary level, Education Week reports. • Several Polk schools use Positive Behavior Support to improve student problem areas, the Ledger reports.

TEST SCORES: Orange superintendent Barbara Jenkins warns parents that student scores could drop on Florida's new and more difficult tests, My Fox Orlando reports. • State officials need to put testing in its proper place, the Fort Myers News-Press editorializes.

EMPLOYMENT: The Lee school district investigates applicants who have been arrested for crimes but might hire them anyway, Fox 4 reports.

GRAD RATES: Outgoing Palm Beach superintendent Wayne Gent touts his district's improved graduation rate as his top accomplishment, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Gov. Rick Scott's 11th-grade testing announcement creates confusion


When Gov. Rick Scott announced he would suspend Florida's 11th-grade English-language arts test, a sigh of relief swelled in the state's high schools.

That relief has quickly given way to confusion, though, as teachers are telling juniors to keep preparing for the Florida Standards Assessment exam. Teens, their parents and even the teachers have begun raising the question with their school board members and superintendents: Do they have to take the test or not?

"Until we hear otherwise, the 11th-grade test still exists," Pasco County testing supervisor Mark Butler said. "We've had no official direction from the DOE to suspend that test."

Department of Education officials said they, too, are awaiting word from the Governor's Office that the plan has become reality.

"The executive order is the formality that makes it happen," spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

We contacted Scott's office asking if and when the order would be released, and are awaiting a response.

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How would Pasco County teachers prefer to be paid?

During contract negotiations, the Pasco County school district made clear its desire to change the way it distributes paychecks over the summer.

Instead of handing out six checks on a single day, district administrators wanted to disburse employees' salaries in one of two other ways: Fewer but larger equal paychecks every two weeks during the contract, or more numerous but smaller paychecks every other week throughout the entire calendar year.

The United School Employees of Pasco as a group, and several individual workers, complained about the idea. Each side had its arguments. But in the end, all they could agree to do was investigate the issue further.

Now the district and union are jointly seeking employee input. With an online survey, they're asking everyone which of two models they prefer:

(1) twenty-six (26) equal paychecks with twenty-one (21) paychecks paid during the ten month teacher work year with four (4) checks paid on the last teacher workday and one (1) check two weeks later (similar to the current practice) OR

(2) twenty-six (26) equal paychecks to be paid every two weeks year round, including the summer months. …

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