A look back at Florida education in 2008
As 2008 winds to a close, why not take a walk down memory lane to the issues that really got readers commenting. Some of the stories had big impact. Others, not so much. Let's take a look.
The year kicked off with a heated debate over the role of evolution in Florida's science curriculum. The Department of Education had just completed its recommendation and sent it out for public comment, where the divide was clear. We watched the State Board of Education find a middle ground, calling evolution a "scientific theory," after which lawmakers talked about taking matters into their own hands with "academic freedom" legislation that ultimately went nowhere. The issue died down for a few months, only to return in November when word came that new laws might force the state to have the debate again.
Starting in March, the Tampa area saw a string of teachers and school employees (subs, SROs, etc.) get in trouble for inappropriate relationships with students. That would be everything from personal text messages up to sex. National news, folks. The stories appeared on NBC, in Time magazine -- practically everywhere. Anyone who thought that Debra LaFave (right) was unusual was forced to think again. We haven't seen an arrest in a while, but the court cases are now winding through the system.
By April, talk turned to budget cuts as it became increasingly clear that revenue would not meet expectations. During session, lawmakers slashed education funding for 2008-09, forcing districts to make some tough choices not the least of which was not giving employee raises. The crisis only deepened as the fiscal year wore on and revenue continued to slip, along with school enrollment. Next up: A budget-cutting special session that starts on Jan. 5.
Not enough for you? Read on.
April also marked the resignation announcement of Pinellas superintendent Clayton Wilcox, sparking a months long debate over his departure and replacement. Longtime administrator Julie Janssen ultimately won the job, but not before a dramatic showdown with Miami-Dade over hopeful Alberto Carvalho. Under Janssen, Pinellas went on to battle over school closures, a fight which continues.
By May, Pasco teachers began to ramp up their protests against the administration's handling of the no-raise budget. The dispute ran right through the November election, in which the employees actively campaigned against incumbent superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who won. Just before winter break, the sides reached a contract.
The start of the school year brought chaos to Hillsborough parents, who couldn't figure out where their children would catch the bus. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia apologized for the problems, which stemmed from a revamp of the system, and promised to do better in the future. Just days earlier, Elia had won a contract extension. In December, she donated her bonus to charity.
Other fun stories:
- Pasco substitute teacher Jim Piculas claims he's fired for "wizardry," gets much national attention but not a teaching job.
- A Manatee student is suspended from school for sporting a "Ray hawk" in support of the local World Series contenders.
- A Martin teen is arrested after repeatedly farting and turning off his classroom computers.
Eventful year, no? And we clearly didn't list everything that happened. We can only hope for an equally active 2009. Have a safe and happy New Year celebration.