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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A magnet lottery, kind of, sort of

Hillsborough teachers don't want to have to wait months to find out if their children got into magnet and choice schools.

Hillsborough teachers don't want to have to wait months to find out if their children got into magnet and choice schools.

Ever wonder how students are chosen for magnet schools? There's a lottery, right?

But it's not the kind where someone pulls numbered balls out of a jar.

The district uses "a race-neutral weighted lottery process" outlined in this document.

Extra points are given if you live in a certain neighborhood, speak a certain language or belong to a certain income group, all in the interest of maintaining diverse student populations.

There are also points given to children whose siblings are in the magnet schools'; and children of school district employees. The rationale for the last weighting is plain and simple: "To support Hillsborough County Public School employees."

Teachers union leaders raised the issue during Wednesday's bargaining session, which did not go very far as the union wants more money and the district didn't really offer any.

As the two sides were discussing when to meet next -- the idea being that the district will be in a better position to bargain once it closes out the books on the 2015-16 school year -- executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins offered up an idea that will not cost anything at all. …

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About that back rent lawsuit -- New Springs responds

New Springs Schools on Busch Boulevard is in a rent dispute with its landlord. But the charter school's principal says it is well funded not in any danger.


New Springs Schools on Busch Boulevard is in a rent dispute with its landlord. But the charter school's principal says it is well funded not in any danger.

Gradebook reported Monday that New Springs Schools' landlord has sued the charter operator for back rent.

The school's principal, Oguz Tekin, said this about the matter on Wednesday:

"The lawsuit is entirely without merit and will be defended vigorously. The New Springs School has never missed a required payment of rent and is well financed.

What the suit does not say is that the landlord has never completed the required renovations that would allow use of the third floor of the building for school classrooms and other programming, as required in the original lease signed in 2010. As a result, the school has been paying the landlord rent for the first and second floors only, with the third floor rent to commence once the third floor becomes usable. In fact, the school just installed a new roof on the building at its own expense because the landlord failed to do so, as required by the lease. The new roof was a necessary first step in renovating the third floor. …

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Pasco school district officials continue to seek balance in 2016-17 budget

With its first budget hearing scheduled for early next week, the Pasco School Board has set forth its proposed property tax rate for the coming year. Property owners would see a slight decrease of 33.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, as part of the Florida Legislature's move to reduce their local tax burden.

The recommended rates, which represent the maximums the board can adopt, still leave a gap of about $6 million between anticipated revenue and expenses. District budget officials continue to pore over the details to arrive at balance by the time the board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, chief finance officer Olga Swinson said.

"We're working on the roll forwards to make sure we have an accurate estimate," Swinson said, projecting the amount at close to $3.2 million.

Costs associated with providing an added hour of daily reading instruction at 11 low-performing elementary schools remain a wrinkle in the plan. The board is set to consider spending $400,000 of Title I funding to cover 11,275 hours of staff time associated with the state-mandated program. But that's not the full cost.

"We're still trying to identify all the needs," Swinson said. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, public comments, Spanish lessons and more

TAKEOVER: The Pinellas School Board officially approves a district takeover of abruptly shuttered University Preparatory Academy charter school.

NAME CALLING: The Miami-Dade School Board doesn't allow public speakers to mention people by name during comments at meetings, WLRN reports.

LAWSUITS: A non-Spanish-speaking Miami-Dade teacher sues the district after she's denied a job that included teaching Spanish, the Miami New Times reports.

ONLINE EDUCATION: Feeling competition from other outlets, Florida Virtual School boosts its advertising effort, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

WHAT'S NEW? Duval district leaders announce 14 new schools and programs for the coming year, the Florida Times-Union reports. * Lee's superintendent reorganizes his leadership team, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

COLLEGE READINESS: The Manatee School Board approves new ways to identify students for college-level high school courses, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CONSTRUCTION DEBT: Lake School Board members consider borrowing options to pay for needed new schools, the Daily Commercial reports. …

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New data on diversity in the Hillsborough schools

New teachers went through orientation recently at Armwood High School


New teachers went through orientation recently at Armwood High School

Hillsborough County's school officials are redoubling their efforts to hire minority teachers and administrators, according to a report the School Board received in next week's meeting packet.

The hiring campaign -- which includes recent interview days in Puerto Rico -- is just one of many steps described in the more than 200 page report to the state Department of Education, which monitors progress yearly under the Florida Educational Equity Act.  

The report acknowledged some weak spots that the state had flagged: For example, a policy that asked students who had experienced harassment to try and work things out with the other party before filing a complaint. The district said it will take the matter up with its lawyers, to make sure victims of harassment do not thing they need to meet with the perpetrators. …

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Group raises concerns about Florida testing window overlap with Jewish holiday

It's become a ritual of its own: The Florida Department of Education announces a spring testing window, some organization asks for consideration because of religious holidays that fall within the scheduled dates.

Usually, Good Friday and Passover are the main sources of angst. This year is no different.

The Anti-Defamation League has contacted school districts, advising them that the April Florida Standards Assessments in language arts and math overlap with Passover. Additionally, the group noted, the ELA retakes in October conflict with Yom Kippur.

"Jews widely observe these major holidays. Observant Jews are not permitted to work or go to school on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Furthermore, they are not permitted to work or go to school on the first two and last two days of Passover: April 11-12 and 17-18," ADL Florida regional director Hava Holzhauer wrote. "In light of the potential conflicts between these religious holidays and the administration of the FSA examination, we strongly request that your District take these conflicts into account and avoid scheduling test administration days on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the first two and last two days of Passover." …

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Pasco elementary school to test after-school pickup app for district

Two years ago, the Pasco County school district overhauled its school bus system, aiming to become more responsive to parent questions and concerns.

Now, the district is looking into ways to further improve student dropoff and pickup, making it easier for school employees and families alike. Wiregrass Elementary School in Wesley Chapel will lead the initiative with a test run of the phone application Pik My Kid.

The app allows parents to manage their children's dismissal plan, letting the school know things such as when they've arrived in the pickup line or if a different person is coming to get their children. The school tracks the information in the program, and monitors each child as he or she leaves the campus.

Parents would get notifications about when their kids have departed school, and other related information.

"I also can send a message in real time to every car in that car loop, or every person in the system," said principal Steve Williams, who has a keen focus on communication. Examples include notification that a bus route is running late, or that traffic is backing up the pickup line. 

"It's an innovative way to connect with parents," Williams said. …

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Florida education news: Testing, mindset, budgets and more

TESTING: Orange County parents call for a major overhaul to state and local testing and accountability, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

MINDSET: Escambia superintendent Malcolm Thomas calls upon district administrators and teachers to change the way they approach education, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

LAWSUITS: The group fighting Florida's education funding adequacy objects a state move to force it to pay court costs associated with the case, WJXT reports. * The Leon school district nears a settlement with a motorcyclist who crashed into a school bus, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

BUDGETS: Lake School Board members approve a rollback tax rate but raise questions about a "status quo" spending plan, the Daily Commercial reports. * The Collier School Board considers a 6.1 percent property tax increase, the Naples Daily News reports.

FITNESS: Two sixth grade classes at a Highlands middle school will participate in a semester-long fitness study in their P.E. class, Highlands Today reports.

LABOR NEWS: The Volusia School Board approves a new health insurance benefit for employees, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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Pinellas to hold a teacher job fair for its (almost) newest school, Midtown Academy

Hours before the Pinellas County School Board is expected to approve its newest school on Tuesday, the school district will host a job fair to hire teachers for the soon-to-be Midtown Academy.

District officials already have a new name and principal for the St. Petersburg charter school formerly known as University Preparatory Academy and now they need teachers. The job fair will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the school district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo.

District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the school needs to fill 34 instructional positions, however eight hires are pending. Thirty candidates are expected to attend Tuesday's job fair. 

Those interested in applying must have an active application on file with the district and either hold a valid teaching certificate or a valid Florida Statement of Eligibility. Recent graduates can substitute the second requirement with an official letter from the registrar stating that they have met the requirements for graduation or an official transcript. …

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Landlord sues North Tampa charter school for back rent

New Springs gets the largest share of its students from Van Buren Middle School in North Tampa.


New Springs gets the largest share of its students from Van Buren Middle School in North Tampa.

A charter school in North Tampa that has served as an alternative to several low-performing district schools is behind in its rent, a lawsuit alleges.

New Springs Schools owes more than $600,000 in payments on the Busch Boulevard school to Jeffrey L. Miller Investments Inc., according to a suit filed July 19 in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The landlord alleges the charter school stopped paying rent some time after the lease was renegotiated and renewed in 2014.
B-rated New Springs, with 334 students in grades K-8. draws its largest numbers from Van Buren Middle School, which received a D last year; Robles Elementary, also with a D; and C-rated Forest Hills Elementary and Greco Middle.

The school's elementary and middle divisions were consolidated in 2015 when the School Board approved a five-year renewal of their district charter. District officials found the science-based curriculum was sound, students were well behaved and the building was "neat and clean."

The landlord, however, says New Springs has not maintained the building, and is performing unauthorized renovations on the roof. …

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Students at five Pasco schools eligible for little-used Opportunity Scholarship transfers

After a year hiatus, Florida's program allowing students at persistently low performing public schools to choose higher achieving nearby schools with space is again available.

This year, children at five Pasco County schools that earned an F or three consecutive D grades from the state are eligible for the Opportunity Scholarships. The district has offered families the option of two C-rated campuses near each school.

Transportation is provided.

Students at F-rated Calusa Elementary may choose between Cotee River and Mittye P. Locke, while those at F-rated Hudson Elementary may pick between Shady Hills and Cypress.

Children assigned to triple-D rated Gulf Highlands have Cotee River and Deer Park elementary schools as choices, while those zoned to Gulfside may select Anclote or Mittye P. Locke, and those attending Pasco Elementary may switch to San Antonio or Chester Taylor.

This program represents the vestiges of Florida's original voucher system, which was found unconstitutional. It allows for limited options within the public schools for children at Florida's lowest scoring campuses. …

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Contract settlement before return to work unlikely for Pasco County school employees

Aiming to complete talks before schools reopen Aug. 8, Pasco County school district and employee union representatives began contract negotiations in April.

Their target appears to be fading, though, as work resumes in two weeks, and the sides have yet to bring a pay and benefits proposal to the table. District officials have said they intend to offer 3 percent raises.

Negotiations didn't happen the week of July 18, as had been anticipated. And the bargaining scheduled for this week remained listed as time and location to be announced as late as this morning.

"We would love to have an agreement," United School Employees of Pasco negotiator Jim Ciadella told the Gradebook. "But we're clearly not there yet."

Ciadella expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of progress to the School Board at its July 19 meeting. He later explained that the USEP was disappointed with the lack of movement on several key ideas that the union proposed, such as allowing school-related personnel to transfer jobs based on seniority in certain situations. …

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Florida education news: Principal problems, gifted education, school choice and more

TROUBLES: An investigation details the leadership problems that led to the downfall of a former Hillsborough elementary school principal.

GIFTED EDUCATION: Duval school district leaders debate the need for a middle school gifted program, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The St. Johns School Board begins reviewing applicants for its superintendency, the St. Augustine Record reports. * Polk's associate superintendent/chief academic officer resigns, the Ledger reports.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Athletic directors continue to debate the state's new school choice and athletics eligibility rules, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

KEEPING TRACK: An online portal helps Alachua students and parents stay on top of assignments and grades, the Gainesville Sun reports.

DISCIPLINE: Suspensions hit a seven-year high in Bay County schools, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SAFETY: An in-house investigation finds no truth to allegations that Citrus County schools are unsafe or that school leaders manipulated state grades, the Citrus County Chronicle reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 17, 2016

With classes set to resume in less than a month, the Florida Board of Education reviewed dozens of turnaround plans for the state's lowest performing schools during a meeting this past week. School districts dealt with dress code concerns, surprise charter school closures, and President Obama's recent guidance on transgender students. Some parents meanwhile took steps to challenge the state's third-grade reading retention law. That's just the beginning. Get the latest Florida education news daily on the Gradebook. Send comments to …

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Be up front about Land O'Lakes High plans, parents urge Pasco school district

Plans to upend Land O'Lakes High School for needed remodeling remain a year away, but that hasn't stopped some parents from agitating for more details now.

They've begun collecting signatures on an online petition, in which they demand to know more about the administration's preparations and discussions to relocate the school's 1,800 students during demolition and construction.

"We do NOT agree with the School District's plan to grossly disrupt the education of our children by relocating them to different schools for the 2017-2018 school year," the document reads. "As parents, we have sacrificed and endured a lot of hardships to ensure that we give our children the proper complete high school experience. This completely undermines all of that."

At a basic level, they simply want to be included in the decision making, and not told after the fact what will happen. 

"We just feel this whole process has not been very transparent and its going to affect our kids and more importantly their education," organizer Abhi Visuvasam wrote in an email to the Gradebook. "I have a lot of support already, and more coming." …

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