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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hernano teachers, district close to new contract agreement

Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District and its teachers are close to an greement that would give most of them performance-based raises of about 3 percent, the highest in several years.
Teachers rated “highly effective” by the district would receive raises of $1,200 for the current school year, according to the a contract tentatively approved by the Hernando County Classroom Teachers’ Association, while those rated “effective” will receive raises of $900, said Kathy Marcucci, the chairman of the union’s negotiating team.
Of about 1,600 teachers in the district, 1,467 have returned from last year, said Heather Martin, the district’s executive director of business services.
About 1,000 of those have rated as highly effective, based partly on the results of their students’ tests scores, while about 400 are rated effective. The final agreement is expected at the end of next month.


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The 2017-18 Pinellas County school calendar is coming (and here's a glimpse at Hillsborough's calendar)

The Hillsborough County Schools tentative student calendar (shown here) will go before the School Board for final approval in the spring. The Pinellas County School Board will discuss proposed student calendars at an impromptu workshop before Tuesday's 5 p.m. board meeting.

Hillsborough County Schools

The Hillsborough County Schools tentative student calendar (shown here) will go before the School Board for final approval in the spring. The Pinellas County School Board will discuss proposed student calendars at an impromptu workshop before Tuesday's 5 p.m. board meeting.

It's never too early to plan for summer vacation.

The Pinellas County school district has added a workshop before Tuesday's 5 p.m. board meeting to discuss proposed calendar options for the 2017-18 school year. That workshop will take place at 3:30 p.m. at the district's headquarters in Largo.

District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the workshop wasn't advertised before because no more workshops were scheduled for the rest of the 2016 year. The draft calendar itself isn't posted yet, and Wolf didn't give an estimate on when it would be posted.

The Gradebook will update this post when the calendar is posted.

Students and school staff had an unusually short summer this year, as the district decided to wrap up the end of this school year by Memorial Day. That meant schools had to start earlier (Aug. 10) to finish by May 25, 2017.

The photo above is Hillsborough's tenatative student calendar for 2017-18. Let's see if Pinellas and Pasco will also start Aug. 10 and finish May 25.

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Land O'Lakes High School renovations on tap for spring start, Pasco superintendent says

Major renovation work at Land O'Lakes High School is likely to begin this spring, perhaps even while students are still in classes, Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning told the Gradebook.

The need to hold off until the summer no longer exists, Browning said, because of a recent decision to do the project without closing the campus. Several parents complained when they learned the administration was considering relocating students for the duration of the construction, as it did for other similar remodelings.

"We don't have to wait until school is out," Browning said.

The School Board selected a project architect at its Oct. 4 meeting, and Browning said he anticipated having drawings "soon." The construction of a new classroom wing would come first, he said.

"Once that wing gets done, we'll move kids from the main building into the wing and portables," and then begin the second phase of the plan, Browning said.

The work is expected to take two years. The administration expects to hold a parent meeting about the project in December.

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Florida education news: Dress code, testing, travel and more

DRESS CODE: A Ridgewood High senior calls for a dress code protest, and gets threatened with possible arrest.

TESTING: Most of the children whose parents challenged Florida's third grade retention law remain in third grade as their court case lingers, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

PRAYER: The FHSAA seeks dismissal of Cambridge Christian's lawsuit over prayer at its state championship football game, the News Service of Florida reports.

TRAVEL: Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes says she won't stop her district-paid travel despite a travel ban for all employees, ABC Action News reports. Her travel expenses have been an issue since 2006.

SETTLEMENT: The Clay School Board settles a case with a family claiming its child with autism was abused in class, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: The Santa Rosa school district will seek renewal of its local sales tax for capital projects, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

LABOR NEWS: The Florida Education Association launches a Hillary Clinton voter drive and pledges to fight conservative Florida education policies, Politico Florida reports. …

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Committee reaches agreement on new boundaries for east Pasco middle, high schools

Pasco County School Board

After three meetings, a committee of parents and school district officials arrived at a plan Thursday to finally ease the enrollment crunch at its two most crowded schools, Wiregrass Ranch High and John Long Middle. Wiregrass Ranch, which has about 2,500 students enrolled, would be able to end two years of double sessions, with upperclassmen attending first through seventh periods and freshmen fourth through tenth periods.

To accomplish that goal, however, the committee proposed new attendance zones that would push the county's newest middle-high school GGG, which opens in the fall on Old Pasco Road, well above its 1,800-student capacity.

"We don't like that idea, but it's the reality that we have, because most of these schools are going to still be over," district planning director Chris Williams said.

He suggested that the district's plan to build a new middle school on the Old Pasco Road site, about three to five years from now, will relieve GGG with many students already assigned there at that time. …

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Pinellas teachers, support professionals unions ratify contracts

The results are in.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and the Pinellas Educational Support Professionals Association overwhelmingly voted in favor to ratify their bargaining agreements with the Pinellas County school district. The mail-in ballots were counted Wednesday night.

PCTA president Mike Gandolfo said 96 percent of the 3,228 votes by teachers were in favor of the contract. That's a much smaller turnout than last year, when 77 percent of the 5,427 ballots rejected the proposed agreement, requiring a second vote which was ultimately approved by 82 percent.

"I think they were just so angry (then) that it made them want to go to the polls," Gandolfo said. "This time everyone was kind of content, I guess, and happy with the contract." 

There are about 7,200 teachers in Pinellas County who will receive a 3.85 percent pay increase. The contract also includes new language guaranteeing that effective and highly effective teachers in good standing will be recommended for renewal, as roughly half of Pinellas teachers are on annual contracts. …

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Pasco teachers union challenges school district's mid-year transfer ban

For three years, Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning talked about barring district teachers from transferring schools midway through the academic year.

He put his goal into action in August. After one quarter under the rule, the United School Employees of Pasco is fighting back.

The union has filed a class-action grievance against the administration, alleging that disallowing otherwise acceptable job transfers violates teachers' contract rights.

"We believe what they are doing is absolutely not correct, and we are uncomfortable that they have left this whole thing sitting there," USEP operations director Jim Ciadella said, noting the district and USEP did not agree upon any changes to transfer procedures. "We think the superintendent over-extended himself."

Ciadella said several teachers, as yet unnamed publicly, plan to testify at an Oct. 24 hearing that they were improperly denied moves to new schools solely because of this new practice.

The current contract does not speak of a midyear transfer ban in the portion (Article VII Section E) that sets forth the requirements to request a transfer.

Preliminary informal meetings with lower level officials have yielded no relief.  …

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Florida education news: Construction funding, school threats, open meetings and more

SHORTFALL: The Pasco school district anticipates $1.33 billion in construction and maintenance needs over ten years, but only $900.3 million in revenue to cover the costs.

THREATS: Two Washington County schools cope with a creepy clown threat on social media, WJHG reports. * An 11-year-old Collier student is arrested on charges he made a false threat of a school shooting, the Naples Daily News reports. * A Bay middle school student is arrested on accusations of making a clown threat, the Panama City News Herald reports.

PICKUP LINE: Three adults get into a fight while waiting to pick up students outside a Brevard high school, Florida Today reports.

DIVERSITY: Manatee superintendent Diana Greene says district students handle diversity and bullying issues well, the Bradenton Herald reports.

OPEN MEETINGS: Observers question whether the Duval School Board held an illegal closed meeting to discuss members' behavior, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TRUMP MONEY: Three Palm Beach schools get donations from the Trump Foundation after their bands perform at private events on his properties, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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State-funded performing arts center could head to new Pasco County high school

Two years ago, Florida lawmakers began funnelling millions of dollars to Pasco-Hernando State College for a performing arts center in Wesley Chapel.

The project, boosted by then-House speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, got $15.5 million during Weatherford's two year term at the top. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the 2016 installment, amid expectations that no more funding would come.

Questions began to arise over what might happen to the project, which was to include the college and Pasco school district.

It's now looking as if the center might become part of the district's newest high school, GGG, on Old Pasco Road. Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd presented the idea to college trustees this week, and said he received strong support for the concept.

Gadd said several of the trustees intended to visit the site this week, and the two entities could have an agreement within a week.

The lateness of the discussion means that any new performing arts center would not be ready in time for GGG's opening next fall, superintendent Kurt Browning said. If everything goes smoothly, he said, the center could be ready in late 2017 or early 2018.

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Pinellas students transfer out of four low-performing elementary schools

Dozens of students transferred this year out of four low-performing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, taking advantage of a long-standing state law.

According to the Pinellas County School District, 88 students opted to transfer to higher-performing elementary schools. The transfers include: 26 students from Fairmount Park to Bauder; 22 students from Campbell Park to Cross Bayou; 22 from Lakewood to Azalea; and 18 from Melrose to Fuguitt, Curlew Creek and Pinellas Central. (Most of the students from Melrose went to Fuguitt.)

The Gradebook has gotten several calls and emails from people who are concerned that students are being transferred involuntarily. But families must choose to use the state's opportunity scholarship program, which allows them to transfer out of schools that earned an F or three consecutive D grades. The state program has been in place since 1999. It was amended in 2006 after the state Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that allowed transfers to private schools.

Students started the year at their zoned schools. …

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Teacher annual contract guarantees go against legislative intent, original sponsor says

News that Pinellas County teachers recently won new annual contract protections for well-rated performance reinvigorated Pasco County teachers who have sought the same terms for three straight years.

If Pinellas will guarantee employment for educators with "effective" or "highly effective" ratings, they reasoned, why can't Pasco? The United School Employees of Pasco has delayed bargaining while pressing the issue in more public settings

Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning has insisted that districts shouldn't be taking the step that Pinellas and others have adopted.

"I don't know how these districts are doing that, in light of what the Legislature intended when they did away with tenure," Browning said. "If you were a professional service contract employee, you had certain protections. They said after this date there are no more professional service contracts for new employees."

The law currently defines "annual contract" as "an employment contract for a period of no longer than 1 school year which the district school board may choose to award or not award without cause." …

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Second 'Bridging the Gap' forum draws large crowd

More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night at a public forum to get input about the Pinellas County School District's plan to close the achievement gap.

The gathering, held at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, was the second of four scheduled by the school district. Superintendent Mike Grego first unveiled the "Bridging the Gap" plan in 2013, but district officials have updated it, as well as the district's overall strategic plan

Bridging the Gap includes five areas in which the district wants to close the gap between black students and their classmates. Those include: graduation rates; grade-level proficiency on state exams; participation and performance in accelerated classes; disciplinary infractions; and eligibility for special education programs. (In the last two categories, black students are overrepresented.)

Grego told the audience Tuesday that the school district is in "problem-solving mode." He asked participants to write their comments and suggestions on sticky notes and attach them to posters related to the categories of the plan. Many of the comments collected were lengthy. Some were simple: "Make learning fun." …

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Notes from Tuesday's Pinellas School Board workshop

Tuesday's nearly six-hour School Board workshop covered a wide range of topics. Here are a few notes to keep you updated.

Gifted education for all students, not just the gifted ones

Although the "school-wide enrichment model" has been in Pinellas County classrooms for the past three years now, the founder of that model, Joseph Renzulli, director of the Neag Center for Creativity, Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Connecticut, stopped by to break down how it works to the School Board.

The idea is to train teachers to have enjoyment, engagement and enthusiasm for learning, which leads to creative teaching ways that are sometimes reserved for just gifted children. The model also aims to seek out gifted students who are disadvantaged.
So far, 8 Pinellas schools focus mostly on the creative part of the model, and 45 elementary schools with lower gifted enrollments have the model to seek out other gifted children.

Board member Linda Lerner called the model a "breath of fresh air." The model does not come with a price, as Renzulli referred to it as "missionary work."

Dr. Phil-backed virtual doctor visits for employees? …

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Florida education news: Guns, evaluations, work load and more

GUNS: A new survey shows a majority of Floridians support allowing some school employees to carry weapons, the News Service of Florida reports. More from Politico Florida.

EVALUATIONS: The Orange school district and teachers union agree to lower the requirements to earn top teacher evaluation ratings, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

MORALE: Broward teachers complain of being overworked, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

FINANCIAL AID: Collier high school graduates leave millions in college grants unclaimed each year, the Naples Daily News reports.

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH: The Sarasota School Board picks its CTE director Todd Bowden to be the district's next superintendent, the Herald-Tribune reports. More from the Bradenton Herald.

SCIENCE LESSONS: Florida State University donates $40,000 in lab equipment to Bay district schools to assist in physics education, the Panama City News Herald reports.

FOR SALE: The Miami-Dade school district puts a piece of prime downtown real estate on the market, the Miami Herald reports.

ADVANCED EDUCATION: Duval School Board members fight over International Baccalaureate magnets, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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Revenue expected to fall far short of need for Pasco schools capital projects, staff says

Even under the most "robust" scenario, the Pasco County school district is on track to come up $429.7 million short of the $1.33 billion needed for construction and maintenance projects over the next ten years, chief finance officer Olga Swinson told the School Board on Tuesday.

She projected shortfalls in all of the district's primary income streams that support capital projects -- the Penny for Pasco local sales tax, impact fees, state PECO funds and the local property tax.

"We can only do projects for as much resources as we have," Swinson said. "So we keep moving projects."

She noted that even just considering roofing, air conditioning and pavement, which the administration has prioritized, the district appears to be $79 million behind need. And that does not take into account the county's return to rapid enrollment growth, which planning director Chris Williams told the board would require at least six more new schools over the coming decade.

Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said the district wants to increase its revenue. But "we are constrained," Hurley noted. "We can't raise funds ourselves." …

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