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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Elections, prayers, unions and more

ELECTION NEWS: Incumbents win new terms in Pinellas and Pasco, stay on track for reelection in Hillsborough but lose big in Hernando.

KEY ISSUE: Education should be among the top priorities for Florida's next governor, the Times editorializes.

CHURCH AND STATE: The Orange School Board says high school football teams may no longer have outside pastors as chaplains, Fox News columnist Todd Starnes writes.

MORE KIDS: The Manatee school district sees 2 percent enrollment growth and might have to do more hiring, the Bradenton Herald reports.

LABOR NEWS: The Brevard School Board approves a new teacher contract, then raises concerns about the teacher ratification given unrest in the local union, Florida Today reports.

LET THEM VOTE: A circuit judge says the Clay School Board can proceed with its November vote on whether to keep electing the schools superintendent, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NEVER MIND: The Marion School Board backs off its proposal to fully restore art and music classes to elementary schools, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • The Bay School Board moves to overturn its policy that eliminated valedictorian and salutatorian honors, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

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Area school board results deliver good news for incumbents

With all but a few precincts reporting, Pasco County School Board vice chairman Steve Luikart was cruising to an easy reelection victory, holding about 72 percent of the ballots cast over challenger Marc Yacht.

Luikart, who's in line to become chairman in November, said he appreciated the public support and belief in his efforts.

"I am a student advocate and I will continue to be a student advocate," the retired high school assistant principal said. "If I see something wrong I will speak out about it. That's why they elected me."

See our story here.

Meanwhile, all the sitting Pinellas board members seeking reelection were leading in their races (story), and Hillsborough at-large board member April Griffin looked likely to survive a seven-person primary and head to the general election (story).

Click on the story links for updates.

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Pasco middle school asks permission to spend money after it's already spent

The Pasco School Board will have to decide next Tuesday whether to approve the expenditure of $1,327.50 nearly four weeks after the money was spent.

Brandon Bracciale, principal of Weightman Middle School, has asked the board to allow him to use money from the school's advisory council funds, in support of a summer planning program. It would cover the time of five teachers working three six-hour days, at $14.75 an hour.

The event, focusing on positive behavior, took place Aug. 5-7.

So what if the board rejects the item?

Just last month, the board questioned the administration's request to approve travel for eight administrators who had left before the meeting began. In that instance, superintendent Kurt Browning said the staff would have had to cover the expenses personally if the board had not approved the trip (which it ultimately did).

Board members said they expect to receive more timely information going forward. Time will tell whether they take issue with this latest spending proposal. Stay tuned.

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Pasco school district makes progress on strategic plan

At first, Pasco County School Board members balked at the $290,000-plus price tag attached to superintendent Kurt Browning's new strategic planing consultant.

Now the process is under way, though, and board members say they've been taken by the results so far. They've said some of the input from district employees has proven revealing and could lead to changes in the system.

One example they cited is rumblings from mid-level managers about micromanaging from the top, and the connected desire of some workers to have more control over what they do. Noting the prevalence of the view, Browning recently told department directors he wanted to meet with them monthly to hear their thoughts and concerns. 

At least one person responded that the meetings probably would run more smoothly and generate more comments if the assistant superintendents and executive directors were not invited. Browning did not respond to the idea, and has yet to set times for the sessions. …

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Several area school board races to be decided today

The direction that Tampa area school districts will head could take shape today as voters choose their next school board members.

Four of five Pinellas County board seat winners will be determined with the primary outcome, as well as one Pasco County position and one Hernando County spot. All those races have only two candidates, meaning the victor takes to the dais come November without any further campaigning.

Those seats are Hernando District 3, Pasco District 5 and Pinellas Districts 2, 3, 6 and 7. In all but the Hernando race, incumbents are seeking reelection.

The top two vote-getters in the remaining races — Districts 1 and 5 in Hernando, Districts 2, 4 and 6 in Hillsborough, and District 4 in Pinellas — will have to wait to learn their fate in the general election.

Voting runs through 7 p.m. Learn more about the candidates here. Check back tonight for results.

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Florida education news: Remedial courses, opting out, graduation honors and more

TESTING: Gov. Rick Scott calls for a review of Florida's testing system. Scott's effort misses the point of why parents are upset, columnist John Romano writes.

PAYING TWICE: A growing number of states follow Florida's lead in ending remedial college courses, the National Journal reports.

OPTING OUT: Florida school districts could lose funding if they opt out of state testing, State Impact Florida reports.

EARLY HOURS: Okaloosa high schools have among the earliest start times in the nation, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

LAWSUITS: A judge dismisses two of three complaints a former employee made against the Manatee school district, the Bradenton Herald reports. • The Manatee district drops an administrative complaint against former assistant superintendent Robert Gagnon, the Bradenton Herald reports. • A judge orders Marion School Board and City of Ocala leaders to sit and talk about their fees dispute, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

LABOR NEWS: A judge says the Clay School Board must prove it never had documents the teachers union requested, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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Gov. Rick Scott continues focus on education, with attention to testing

With the primary election just a day away, Gov. Rick Scott worked Monday to keep voters' attention on education and his intentions for public schooling if he wins another four years.

In addition to talking about added funding for safety, technology and reading, Scott pointedly suggested that he wanted to streamline student testing. Anti-testing sentiment has increased in Florida in recent months, with groups from the political left and right taking shots at the high-stakes assessment demand.

Scott announced in his latest policy briefing on education that he would call for a thorough review of testing in Florida: …

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Pasco County high schools reconsidering football games on Jewish holiday

Some say high school football is a religion in Florida. This fall, the Oct. 3 Friday night lights coincide with Yom Kippur, one of the most holy days in the Jewish faith.

At least one Pasco County parent has asked school district officials to reschedule.

"This affects children in football, cheerleading, the band as well as members of the community who support the Pasco County school sports and music endeavors," Robyn Reese wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning.

Kevin Shibley, district executive director for administration, said the FHSAA listed the date as available for games. All Pasco high schools but Land O'Lakes and Zephyrhills still show it as a game day. But Shibley added that most schools are working to change the contests to Thursday, before the holiday begins.

Larger school districts with more diverse populations run into these issues more often. This year, Hillsborough schools, for instance, avoided complaints by setting their football games for Oct. 2.

As Pasco grows, though, officials acknowledge they'll have to do a better job of preparing for such conflicts. Last spring, Pasco and other districts got complaints for scheduling FCAT testing during Passover. …

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Florida education news: Testing, suspensions, home schooling and more

EDUCATION POLITICS: Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to call for a review of state testing procedures as part of his campaign platform, the AP reports.

TOUGH CHOICE: Brevard School Board candidates must decide whether to campaign or go to their scheduled meeting on election day, Florida Today reports.

WHO PAYS? The Duval school district and Jacksonville city leaders debate which agency should shoulder the financial burden of a successful student suspension program, the Florida Times-Union reports.

VOLUNTEER HOURS: Two candidates for Volusia School Board say they would donate their salary if elected, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

HOME SCHOOLING: The state reports an increase in home schooling families in Florida, Redefined reports.

MORE SLEEP: Pediatricians recommend later school start times for children's health, the AP reports.

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Florida education news: Parent involvement, graduation requirements, charter schools and more

PARENT INVOLVEMENT: Pinellas School Board members and candidates discuss whether to allow parents with nonviolent, nonsexual criminal backgrounds to participate at schools.

NOW OPEN: Florida Polytechnic University defies expectations and debuts two years after its creation.

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS: A Florida lawmaker looks to change state law requiring English-lanugage learners to pass the FCAT reading exam to get a diploma, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Broward district officials say they might reject charter school applicants with dubious pasts and fight the state if necessary, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

PRACTICE HELPS: Polk students who took a summer algebra course had a higher passing rate on the state end-of-course exam than others, the Ledger reports.

INCENTIVES: A State Board of Education member creates a program to pay Monroe students who pass a computer literacy test, the Keynoter reports.

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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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