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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

No changes to transportation in Pinellas County Schools this fall

Just a quick update on the transportation discussion at the Pinellas County School District:

Board members said today that there will be no changes to transportation in the coming school year. They reviewed potential cost savings that could come from cutting so-called transportation "extras." For instance, it costs about $4.3 million a year to bus students to magnet programs, out of zone schools and career academies.

Board members said they don't want to change transportation options after parents made decisions about where to send their children to school. But Chairwoman Robin Wikle said the board has this discussion every year and it's never a good time to make a decision.

"When is a good time," she asked.

The answer? Superintendent John Stewart said now is the time to start talking about transportation changes for the 2013/14 school year.


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Health insurance changes could be on horizon for Pinellas County Schools

Board members are considering changes to the Pinellas County School District’s health insurance plan that would increase out-of-pocket costs for employees.

During its workshop today, board members looked at a proposed plan that would include a $2,500 individual deductible and a $5,000 family deductible. The district’s current plan has no deductible at all.

The proposed plan also would require employees to pay 20 percent of costs after the deductible is met. Employees now have set costs for hospital visits, emergency room trips and urgent care.

Superintendent John Stewart told board members that they need to consider a change in health insurance because of rising costs. The district’s plan costs $120 million this year; next year, it’s estimated to cost $127 million. (Employees pay 20 percent of that.)

“Going forward you have to do something or the bleeding will never stop,” Stewart said.

District officials estimate that the proposed plan would save the district about $20 million. Some of that money could be used for salary increases for employees.

Board member Linda Lerner said she was concerned about the effect on employees, particularly those making the lowest salaries. She also requested a comparison of neighboring counties’ costs.

“If you go to this so many of our employees will absolutely not be able to be part of this,” she said.

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Poly support group: It's time to come together

Florida Polytechnic, the state's 12th university, is here. So, no matter how you felt about the idea before it made its way through the Legislature, it's time to come together to support it. That was the message of the new Florida Poly Vision group that debuted Thursday in Lakeland.

"I think there's an awful lot of people here, regardless of where they stood before the decision was made, who are now saying, 'Look, this is an opportunity,'" said the group's leader, Cliff Otto, president of the Saddle Creek Corporation. "Whether we wanted it or not, it's here. Shame on us if we don't take advantage of it."

Without offering many details, the group said it would work to spread a positive message about Florida Polytechnic -- a school that was born into controversy. Students, faculty and the University of South Florida (from which the school is splitting off) opposed its creation. The issue divided Polk County and dominated the higher education landscape during the last Legislative session. …

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Pasco district plans to consolidate after-school programs to save money

Enrollment in the after-school PLACE program at Pasco County's Sunray Elementary School has dropped below the break-even point, losing more than $210,000 since 2005.

With money tight and no prospect for a turnaround, the district staff has recommended closing the program at Sunray. The families still needing after-school care from the district could send their children to PLACE at Gulf Trace Elementary, about 2 miles west, with busing provided. The staff, meanwhile, would be transferred to other PLACE sites that have open jobs and adequate enrollment. 

The district is not recommending any increases in the fees that parents pay for PLACE, though. The School Board is being asked to maintain the current fees of $40 per child during the school year, and $55 for the summer, when it meets Tuesday.

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JD Alexander, other elected officials, to attend Florida Poly Vision unveling

No surprise here.

Sen. JD Alexander, who was able to push his pitch to create the 12th university through the Legislature and past Gov. Rick Scott's signature, will attend a press conference today in Lakeland announcing a new Florida Polytechnic support group.

The PR firm handling the event, which has also represented Alexander, sent out a revised news release Thursday morning, alerting media that several elected officials will be in attendance.

Those include: Alexander; Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow); Rep. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland); Winter Haven Mayor James H. Powell; Auburndale Mayor Jack Myers, who previously worked as a consultant at the University of South Florida Polytechnic (pre-independence push); and Polk County commissioners Melony Bell, R. Todd Dantzler, Bob English and Edwin Smith. …

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Florida education news: Poly trustees, Pasco alternative school cut, high achieving grads and more

NOW HIRING: Nearly 40 Floridians apply for 11 spots on the Florida Polytechnic University ’s board of trustees.

ALTERNATIVE CUT: Funding is cut for the Pasco branch of AMIkids.

MOVING ON: A popular Tarpon High assistant principal who is not reappointed to his post says he’s resigned to his fate, though parents and teachers want to fight to convince district officials to let him stay.

FAMILY AFFAIR: The third daughter from one family is about to graduate as valedictorian of the IB program at Hillsborough High School .

MODEL CITIZENS: Two civic-minded Pasco high school students are featured in a textbook.

LONG ROAD TO GED: From private school to drug addiction and beyond, a Hernando man earns his diploma and heads to Pasco-Hernando Community College .

CONTAGIOUS FUN : Hernando emergency workers give Challenger K-8 students a firsthand look at fighting contaminants and hazardous materials.

TELL IT TO THE JUDGE: A challenge of the rule implementing the merit pay law goes before a judge, the Palm Beach Post repors.

BUDGET COMBO: The governor’s panel on higher education reform floats the idea of multi-year budgets, the Associated Press reports.

TWOFER: The number of dual-enrollment students in Florida continues to grow, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

RETURN BID : A finalist with history at Edison College makes his case for landing the job as the school’s district president, the Naples Daily News reports. 

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CJR looks at media response to New York teacher rankings

If you have time for a long read, this is a good one.

LyNell Hancock, a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, offers an analysis of how the media responded to the February release of teacher rankings in New York. The piece, called "When Big Data is Bad Data," was published in the Columbia Journalism Review this month. In it, Hancock considers the good, bad and ugly of the stories that followed New York City's controversial release of teacher rankings.

She writes:

"Just because you have data doesn’t mean it is always right to publish it—especially if you know the numbers are no good. And these numbers do have huge problems. Everyone from economists, to educators, to knowledgeable city education reporters know that the arcane algorithms that generated the teacher-rating numbers are as statistically flawed as they are politically fraught.

The complex formulas are meant to measure how much value a teacher contributes to a student’s learning growth (or lack of growth) over time. It would be useful if they actually did. But the data are riddled with mistakes, useless sample sizes, flawed measuring tools, and cavernous margins of error. The Department of Education says that a math teacher’s ranking could be off by 35 percent; an English teacher’s by 53 percent. That means a reading teacher with a ho-hum 35 could either be as horrid as a 1 or as awesome as an 86—take your pick. What election survey with these kinds of gaping margins would be published in the papers?

Most damning—and most often ignored in the coverage—is that the sole basis for these ratings are old student tests that have since been discredited by the New York State Board of Regents. The 2007-2010 scores used for these teacher rankings were inflated, the Regents determined. The Department of Education had lowered the pass score so far that the tests had become far too easy. So not only were the algorithms suspect, but the numbers fed into them were flawed. News organizations that publish them next to teachers’ names run the risk of not only knowingly misleading the public, but also of becoming entangled in the political web surrounding teacher evaluations, which extends from the mayor’s office, to the state house, to unions, philanthropy board rooms, and to the White House.

And yet, nearly every city news organization went ahead and printed them anyway."

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Pasco School Board prepares to adopt 2012-13 calendar

Furlough days still could force changes to it. But for now, at least, the Pasco school district has settled upon class and work dates for the 2012-13 school year (attached below).

As it stands, the first day for teachers would be Aug. 13, with students arriving a week later on Aug. 20. Other key dates would be:

Sept. 3: Labor Day

Oct. 22: Teacher planning day 

Nov. 19-23: Thanksgiving break (Note: Nov. 19-20 are possible hurricane makeup dates)

Dec. 24 - Jan. 7: Winter break (Jan. 7 is a teacher work day)

Jan. 21: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Feb. 18: President's Day

March 25 - April 1: Spring break (April 1 is a teacher work day)

May 27: Memorial Day

June 4: Students' last day

June 6: Teachers' last day

Negotiations have yet to begin for the 2012-13 contract. During the current year, the United School Employees of Pasco insisted that at least one furlough day be held on a student class day, and that is expected to happen again. Board members balked at cutting more than one class day, though. The district already has suggested that employees could lose at least one paid holiday to furloughs, which are recommended to save about $5 million in the budget.

The calendar goes to the board on Tuesday.

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More applicants for Pinellas County superintendent

Another batch of applications has come in for the top job in the Pinellas County School District. Here’s a quick rundown of the applicants:

Irving Hamer Jr.: Hamer has been a deputy superintendent for Memphis City Schools since 2008. He also was a senior consultant on a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which studied chronically low-performing schools. He also was a deputy superintendent in the Miami-Dade County School District.

Gary Lewis: Lewis has been superintendent of Catlin School District #5 since 2009. The Illinois school district has just two schools. He also has been a teacher, principal, director of operations.

C.M.C.: Possibly the most mysterious candidate thus far, C.M.C.’s resume and letter of interest list only initials, not a full name. C.M.C. has been campus college chair of criminal justice and security since 2011 and was an associate dean at ITT Technical Institute between 2007 and 2011.

Felice Lepore: Lepore has been chief accountability officer for Cluster One in Brooklyn since 2011. He was principal of the Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports in the Bronx between 2003 and 2011. He also has been a teacher, a math specialist and an assistant principal.

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Polk group to unveil "new support system" for Florida Poly

 Coming on the heels of a Board of Governors meeting, where state leaders heard about Florida Polytechnic's uphill battle as it embarks on independence, a group of Polk County community leaders are now announcing a "new support system," for the new university. 

Florida Poly Vision, Inc., according to a news release, has 60 members so far, with the aim of giving Florida Polytechnic "a much needed voice." Participants include local business folks, such as Cliff Otto, president of the Saddle Creek Corporation, Victor Story, president of the Story Companies, Alice Hunt, VP of Hunt Construction of Central Florida, and Ingram Leedy, CEO of iThink Partners, LLC. 

On Thursday they'll unveil details of their mission at the United Way of Central Florida building in Lakeland. A new web site for the group is counting down the minutes until that event.

Coincidentally, the public relations firm handling the group, Bascom Communications and Consulting, has also represented departing Senate budget chairman JD Alexander. …

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Chronic student absenteeism plagues Pinellas; union leader calls for action

kimblack.jpgPinellas students are chronically absent from class at a higher rate than students in any other Florida district with more than 100,000 students.

According to the state Department of Education, 13 percent of Pinellas students last year were absent for 21 or more days over the course of the school year.

Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, left, has had enough.

"This data calls for immediate action," she wrote to superintendent John Stewart and school board members last week. "Teachers have been stating that something is dramatically wrong regarding student attendance. This problem is not new."

In March, Black asked the district to create a task force to look at the problem, but said she's heard and seen nothing in response. The ramifications of student absenteeism could be as significant for teachers as for their students, she said. …

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Where do Pasco County high school graduates land after commencement?

In conversations about curriculum, some Pasco County school district leaders routinely comment that the district needs more vocational and career options because only about a quarter of graduates are college bound.

That's not necessarily true, though.

With graduation around the corner, the district has released its annual "graduates and leavers" report, this time for the Class of 2011. (You can see it on the School Board's June 5 agenda, item 1.1.) It indicates that of 3,295 graduates who responded to a survey, 50.4 percent said they planned to attend college full time, with another 15.3 percent intending to attend part time. That's down slightly from the Class of 2008, which reported that 58 percent were headed to full-time school with another 20 percent part time.

Of those in the Class of 2011 continuing their education, 41.7 percent said they were going to community college, 26.1 percent to a Florida public university, and 12.2 percent to a private or out-of-state college or university. …

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Florida education news: Student computers, high school graduations, budget cuts and more

imgres.jpegTOO MANY COMPUTERS? Pinellas schools prepare to shift computers around so that all have a ratio of about one machine for every three students.

ON THEIR SHOULDERS: Pasco School Board members face criticism that their proposed budget cuts create too heavy a burden on employees.

IN SUPPORT: Tarpon Springs High students and parents rally behind assistant principal Wayne McKnight after he learns he won't have his contract renewed.

OUSTED: A Pasco Gulf High teacher is dismissed over inappropriate text messages to a female student.

GRADUATIONS: Anclote High valedictorian and salutatorian • Anclote senior Daniel DeGraca overcomes personal hurdles to make it to graduation. • Mitchell High valedictorian and salutatorian • Mitchell senior Seattle Nelson turns his life around with the help of supportive teachers and finds himself headed to college. 

MAKING IT: While many Florida high school seniors prepare for graduation, thousands who were freshmen four years ago won't be crossing the stage, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

VIOLATION? Three Martin School Board members are accused of violating the state's open meetings law, the Stuart News reports. …

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Pasco school district officials pore over which positions to cut

Pasco school district administrators are spending much of Tuesday behind closed doors, trying to finalize which positions they will eliminate from the payroll for 2012-13.

Today's the deadline to make the list, in order to get the proposal before the School Board at its June 5 meeting -- the last one it will have before employees' current contract ends two days later.

Teachers in core curriculum courses have the best chance of avoiding the axe, as the district is committed to meeting state class size rules next year in order to limit its fines for missing the mark this past October. But that doesn't mean all teaching spots will be safe.

Assistant superintendent-secondary Tina Tiede said last week that she expects some high school elective positions might get dropped, with teachers in them moved to core courses if their certification matches. The electives, which don't fall under class size rules, would likely grow. "I am going to look at our clerical areas and I am going to look at our support areas," Tiede also told the School Board during a workshop. "Without identifying particular positions, those are two areas we will look at, as we have done every year." …

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Pinellas County School Board to discuss transportation costs

The Pinellas County School Board will discuss the hot-button topic of transportation at its workshop meeting Thursday. 

If you remember, former superintendent Julie Janssen proposed last year cutting transportation to two fundamental schools to save money. (See that story here.) The proposal didn't go over well with a lot of people. Neither did a compromise that would have changed some school schedules.

Superintendent John Stewart isn't making any recommendations Thursday, but board members will get another look at data about how much it costs to provide all those so-called transportation "extras." For instance, it costs about $4.3 million a year to bus students to magnet programs, out of zone schools and career academies.

Michael Bessette, associate superintendent of facilities and operations, said the numbers available online have been amended slightly. You can see the updated numbers below. The discussion should happen at about 1 p.m. Thursday. (See the agenda here.)



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