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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Opt out, hiring freeze, contract talks and more

TESTING: Parents and school districts across Florida prepare for opting out on testing day. More on opting out from the Orlando Sentinel. • One Pasco County teacher worries her students aren't ready. • Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers face a historic challenge to reform the testing system that has increasingly come under fire. • Alachua teachers are encouraged to create their own end-of-course exams, the Gainesville Sun reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Outgoing Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia visits Palm Beach County to check out its superintendent vacancy, the Palm Beach Post reports.

INFIGHTING: The Collier School Board will pay a mediator to keep the peace at their meetings, WINK reports.

END OF AN ERA: Longtime FSBA executive director Wayne Blanton serves his last day on the job, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

BUDGET BALANCING: The Manatee school district enacts a targeted spending and hiring freeze, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CLIMATE SURVEY: Duval teachers offer the good, bad and ugly about their schools and principals, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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Elia wins Women in Leadership award

Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia is not leaving the American Association of School Administrators conference empty-handed.

The organization honored her with a Women in Leadership Award at its annual convention in San Diego. It wasn't the Superintendent of the Year award that her supporters had hoped she'd win, but Elia was pleased nonetheless.

"It means a lot to me," said Elia, whose last day of work will be Thursday. She acknowledged former deputy superintendent Beth Shields, who was her mentor as she rose through the ranks to become Hillsborough's first female superintendent in 2005. "I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to her and others who have mentored me and inspired me over the years," she said.

The School Board decided to terminate Elia's contract on June 30. She will be on vacation in the months before that date.

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Florida school districts make plans for testing opt out students

Officially, Florida students may not opt out of state tests.

That isn't stopping school districts from preparing for the inevitability that at least some children will try.

Pasco County's testing director, for instance, sent a memo to principals late Thursday saying that children would have to sit quietly in the testing room if they refuse the Florida Standards Assessments. Brevard County, by contrast, will remove children from the testing sites.

See our latest story on how parents are preparing for opting out.

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Charter school, choice legislation likely to move in Florida Legislature this session

For two years, the Florida Senate squashed House attempts to revise the state's charter school laws. The 2015 session looks quite different.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg, who operates a Pasco County charter school, this week filed a bill (SB 1448) that adopts the language of a House Choice and Innovation proposed committee bill on charters -- and then goes even further.

Legg's bill mimics the House version in supporting a Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation, an apparent first step toward creating a state-level charter authorizer other than school districts. The state hasn't had an alternate route to charter approval since the courts ruled unconstitutional the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission in 2008.

Other provisions in both bills include:

- Automatic termination of charters with two consecutive F grades.

- A requirement that charter applicants disclose more details about their past charter activities, which sponsors must consider. …

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Florida education news: African-American history, school zones, early warnings and more

NOT QUITE: Outgoing Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia doesn't take home the national Superintendent of the Year honor.

HISTORY LESSONS: The Hillsborough school district works to improve its African-American history curriculum.

PLANNING: The Pasco School Board prepares a "success plan" with 12 schools piloting the idea.

FEES: Some Escambia residents question the school district's exemption from paying stormwater fees, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

STATE BOARD: Gov. Rick Scott reappoints John Colon and Gary Chartrand to the Florida Board of Education, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ATTENDANCE ZONES: The Miami-Dade School Board approves a controversial plan to rezone three Coral Gables elementary schools, the Miami Herald reports. • Broward parents complain about a School Board plan to create new attendance boundaries for their schools, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

KEEPING TRACK: Marion's early warning system alerts teachers to students who might be struggling so they can get extra help, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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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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