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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

How much did 'schools of choice' option affect Florida's class size compliance?

The effects of Florida's 'schools of choice' class size option was dramatic, education commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in a recent letter to the Senate Education Committee.

Before appeals, Florida schools of choice were out of compliance by just 84 students statewide in 2014, Stewart wrote. If those same schools had been held to classroom counts, as the 2002 amendment mandates, they would have missed by 31,257 students.

If those numbers would have been applied to penalties, districts that used the schools of choice designation would have faced $162.5 million in funding adjustments. Instead, they paid $421,513, Stewart noted.

Districts that escaped large potential fines by using the loophole, which Senate Education chairman John Legg helped write and is now trying to close, include Miami-Dade ($49.1 million), Duval ($21.6 million), Palm Beach ($10.8 million), Lee ($10.6 million), and Broward ($10 million).

Locally, Pasco schools could have faced a $6.8 million fine, while the Hernando, Pinellas and Hillsborough districts would have faced just over $200,000 combined.

The commissioner's report "gives you a sense of the magnitude of what is out there," Legg said. …

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Florida's controversial teacher bonus based on SAT scores returns

Perhaps it is fitting that in the same week that school districts must tell the Department of Education how many teachers qualified for the state's very controversial Best and Brightest bonus, the Florida House Education Committee will consider legislation to make the one-time measure permanent.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg, meanwhile, filed his own version of the bill overnight, noting the House and Gov. Rick Scott have included the concept in their budgets and saying the Senate needs to be part of the conversation.

"We want to open up the hood and see what's under there," Legg said Tuesday, indicating continued concerns with the model. "Is this a Porsche? Or is this a Yugo?" 

The House measure would provide "scholarships" up to $10,000 -- depending on the annual appropriation -- to teachers whose scores were in the 80th percentile or higher.

The 2015 legislative action, reviled by many teachers who disdained the idea of being judged by their years-old SAT and ACT scores, was good for just one year as a budget line item. This latest effort aims to provide annual bonuses to the teachers. …

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Pinellas teachers may be one step closer to a contract after tonight

Representatives from Pinellas County's teachers union will meet tonight to give a recommendation on the latest proposed contract with the School Board before teachers vote at their schools on Thursday.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association faculty representative council will meet at PCTA headquarters in Largo at 5 p.m. Council chairwoman Christine York-Amstutz said the group will most likely recommend a "yes" vote to members, given that the deal hammered out earlier this month by representatives restores language the teachers wanted, keeps previously negotiated salary increases averaging 4 percent and protects the sanctity of lesson planning time.

"I don't anticipate a lot of discussion," York-Amstutz said. "This has a lot of the things that we really wanted."

Negotiators went back to the bargaining table after 77 percent of teachers overwhelmingly rejected the previous negotiated contract, which omitted language regarding physical education teachers and guidance counselors as well as first-year teachers' eligibility for extended leave. …

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Wanting recess back, a new chapter, a saucy enterprise and more

PLAYTIME: Florida parents are pushing back against the lack of recess in public schools, StateImpact Florida reports.

MOVING ON: Manatee County School Board member Bob Gause announces he will not run for re-election next year, the Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald-Tribune report.

STUDENT BUSINESS: The Naples Daily News reports on a project at Immokalee High School that has resulted in a student-run company, Taste of Immokalee, which makes salsas and barbecue sauces. Their products have been sold at a number of stores, including a local Winn Dixie.

GETTING TOUGHER: Florida legislators are mulling proposals for stronger regulation of for-profit colleges, which enroll roughly 20 percent of college students in the state, the Miami Herald reports.

LET A JURY DECIDE: The case of a man who tried to extort former Palm Beach County superintendent Wayne Gent is scheduled to go to trial in January, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LOCAL HERO: Palm Beach County honors a driver who calmly evacuated students from a school bus before it burst into flames, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Principal who launched Pinellas academy transfers mid-year

The principal who helped pilot Pinellas County's first fully immersed personalized learning program at Lealman Innovation Academy has left for an administrative assignment.

Bursara Pitts, 43, was appointed to a special assignment with the school district's Assessment, Accountability and Research department, effective Monday. Assistant principal Connisheia Mathews will serve as interim principal until a full-time replacement is hired, said district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf.

Wolf said principals sometimes take a special assignment during the school year if it is in the best interest of the principal, students and/or staff.

Pitts joined Pinellas Schools in 1999.

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A fight for neighborhood schools, a tobacco ban and more

CLOSE TO HOME: As many of Pinellas County’s zoned elementary schools lose students to magnet programs, private schools and charters, some parents are trying to revive interest in their neighborhood schools.

NO-SMOKING ZONE: Effective Jan. 4, the University of South Florida will ban tobacco use on its Tampa campus. That means no e-cigarettes either.

OVERREACH: Palm Beach County School Board member Mike Murgio stepped over the line and meddled in areas where he didn’t belong, leading to the district’s bus crisis, the Palm Beach Post says in an editorial.

CASE CLOSED: Collier County officials settle with a high school teacher who filed a lawsuit alleging the district retaliated against her, the Naples Daily News reports.

PLAYING CATCH-UP: Teachers and school-based administrators in Marion County rank near the bottom of the 20 largest school districts in Florida when it comes to pay, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

GETTING READY: The Pensacola News Journal reports on kindergarten readiness in Escambia County, where only 66 percent of 5-year-olds are prepared to start school.

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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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