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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida schools turn attention to recognition funds as state grades release nears



How's this for a time line?

Florida schools are set to receive their 2015 grades from the state on or around Feb. 9. The results can qualify them for a piece of about $135 million in recognition funds, which are allocated at $100 per student at the schools.

To decide how to spend the money — their choices are bonuses, equipment or temporary staff — schools have until Feb. 1 to create a plan and send it to the state. Otherwise, state law mandates that the money be split among teachers only.

Some school faculties and advisory councils made their plans long ago, just in case. That's common practice in Hillsborough schools, for instance.

But many others have done nothing yet, following their usual schedule of waiting until the grades come out. For them, the race is on, as Department of Education officials have alerted superintendents that the Feb. 1 deadline hasn't changed despite the lateness of the grade reports.

"We are operating on a stringent timeline," chancellor Hershel Lyons told superintendents, according to minutes of a Jan. 12 conference call.

Lyons advised the superintendents that to create a spending plan, each eligible school must have an advisory council meeting to outline its plan. The meeting must be publicly noticed a reasonable time before the meeting, which he explained means "generally no less than seven days."

In addition to the public notice, there is a requirement that SAC members receive written notice of the subject matter a minimum of 3 days before the vote.

Without a proper agreement, a school will see its money distributed according to statute.

As word spread through the schools, teachers who have viewed the recognition fund program with disdain had choice words.

"It was bad enough when people were pitted against each other over (the funds) in the past, but at least then the money was actually going to be given," Land O'Lakes High math teacher Pat Connolly told the Gradebook via email. "But now we're going to be arguing over the distribution of money we may not even get."

He's suggested that lawmakers change the rules, so the plan deadline is contingent upon the release of school grades. That's currently not in any proposed legislation.

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 8:35am]


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