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Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Restaffing, crowding, parent university and more

RESTAFFING: Struggling Pinellas schools look to fit more than numbers as they hire faculty and administrators for their turnaround efforts.

BURSTING: Pasco's Wiregrass Ranch High enrollment rises to its highest levels ever, raising questions about how to handle the load. • Manatee schools see enrollment rise 1,000 over projections, the Bradenton Herald reports.

INQUISITIVE: Hundreds of Hillsborough parents show up for a weekend seminar on how the public schools work.

SMOOTH START: Two new charter schools debut in Hernando County.

PROTEST: USF Tampa students stage a sit-in to complain about truncated library hours.

SHARING SPACE: The Pasco school district and county government study ways to co-use buildings, fields and parks at the future Starkey Ranch development.

NEW PROGRAMS: A new year means new offerings for students at Pinellas East Lake High.

STOLEN: A Pasco elementary school's clinic assistant is arrested on allegations of stealing a student's Ritalin.

GOV. PHONY: Gov. Rick Scott's actions don't match his words in key policy areas such as education, the Times editorializes. …

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Hillsborough rolls out Edsby system

Once upon a time there was Edline. Hillsborough County's helicopter parents lived there. They could check on their children's test and classroom grades - and hear their children grouse that the teachers hadn't updated them. …

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Pinellas could bump up starting teacher salary to $40,000

With salary negotiations winding to a close, it looks like the starting teacher salary in Pinellas County Schools could soon be among the most competitive in the Tampa Bay area.

A proposed salary schedule for the 2013/14 school year has a first-year teacher making $40,000 a year. Under the proposal, all teachers would see a 5.6 percent pay raise, on average. Some would get more, some a little less.

Teachers in Hillsborough County make about $37,569 in their first year (with a bachelor's degree), while teachers in Pasco earn $36,420 and teachers in Hernando make $35,000. Pasco has a tentative agreement bumping their teachers up to $37,000.

The school district already has reached a tentative agreement with the Florida Public Services Union/SEIU. About 2,500 people in transportation, food services, maintenance and plant operations will receive a 5.5 percent raise on average. The teachers union and the school district met Wednesday for negotiations; both sides expect to conclude next week.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association is expected to meet Tuesday.  …

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Pinellas administration backs breaking up Jamerson-Thurgood feeder pattern

Dana Douglas was upset. Her child attends Jamerson Elementary, a decision she'd felt comfortable with knowing Jamerson feeds into a top-tier middle school: Thurgood Marshall Fundamental.

With the school board considering a proposal to break up that feeder pattern, Douglas came to testify against the change. But the board went ahead with a preliminary vote of approval, so she sent a followup email to the school board wondering whether they hadn't made up their minds before she spoke.

On Thursday, the school system replied. Bill Lawrence, the director of student assignment, reiterated the board's position that Jamerson students could apply to Thurgood Marshall like any other county students, who should have just as much access to one of the system's premiere middle schools.

"The plan...will provide access to Thurgood Marshall, not only for Jamerson children, but also for children who attend other elementary schools, thus leveling the playing field and offering equal access to the programs at Thurgood Marshall," Lawrence wrote in an email directed toward Douglas.

Read Douglas's email here, and Lawrence's full reply below after the jump:

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Conservatives keep turning up the heat on Common Core in Florida

While Gov. Rick Scott huddles with some key political leaders to contemplate the future of Common Core standards and related PARCC testing in Florida, some conservatives from the branch of the party that helped elect Scott are turning up the heat on the issue.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, has filed a bill that seeks to pull Florida out of the PARCC testing consortium, which the state has led since its inception. She also aims to halt participation in the Common Core standards, which Florida schools are in the midst of implementing, until the state holds at least one hearing on the subject in every congressional district, and conducts a fiscal analysis of the implementation.

The cost approached $100 million in the spring, with testing and other expenses still incomplete.

The bill aims to prevent the State Board of Education from entering into or renewing any agreement that "cedes to an outside entity control over curricular standards or assessments." Of note, the State Board has retained the authority to make these decisions throughout. …

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Few Tampa area schools contest their state grades

Despite all the hoopla over whether Florida school grades are fair and accurate, few elementary and middle schools in the Tampa Bay area plan to appeal their ratings.

Hillsborough County, the area's largest district with 266 schools (including charters), submitted three grade appeals to the Florida Department of Education by Thursday's deadline. They were Roland Park K-8, which received a B, Stewart Middle Magnet (B), and Literacy/Leadership/Technology Academy charter school (B). District spokesman Steve Hegarty said each appeal was based on end-of-course exam results not included in the grade calculation.

The Pinellas school district appealed testing participation data for Lakewood and Dixie Hollins high schools. The state has not yet issued high school grades, but districts had to challenge any available FCAT and end-of-course results along with the elementary and middle school grades.

Hernando and Pasco counties did not file any appeals.

"We did have a couple that were on our radar," Pasco accountability director Peggy Jones told the Gradebook. "But we did not appeal anybody." …

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Florida education news: Summits, cheerleaders, sign language and more

PRIVATE SUMMIT: A day after skipping his public education summit, Gov. Rick Scott holds a private meeting in Miami with Jeb Bush, John Thrasher and Gary Chartrand to talk education. Some history, from the Buzz. And an editorial, from the Bradenton Herald. Meanwhile, an Indian River Republican files a bill to halt the Common Core in Florida, State Impact Florida reports.

CHEERLEADER COMPROMISE: Pinellas high schools begin looking for alternatives to cheerleaders' micro-skirts that can be worn in school and meet dress code.

FINGERS DO THE TALKING: Wesley Chapel High School introduces American Sign Language to the curriculum.

SCHOOL GRADES: Florida needs to reinstill confidence in the the state's compromised school grading system short-term, while finding more permanent fixes, the Times editorializes. • The model gains increased scrutiny in Texas, KUHF reports, and in Indiana, the Associated Press reports. • Tony Bennett presses for a full investigation of the Indiana grading controversy that ended his time as Florida education commissioner, the Indy Channel reports. …

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Grego highlights accomplishments in State of Education

Summer wasn't a slow time for the Pinellas County School District.

More than 9,000 students were in school over the summer - they were enrolled in summer school, pre-kindergarten classes, credit recovery, and enrichment camps. Thousands of teachers were trained, as were district and school administrators.

“It is my motto with staff that you build a championship team in the off season,” superintendent Mike Grego told about 200 people who attended the “superintendent’s roundtable” today at the Stavros Institute in Largo.

Grego presented a brief State of Education speech, emphasizing the accomplishments of the past year.

These were among the highlights: Elementary schools are getting science labs, starting with 14 and building to more than 70; every school now offers classes for gifted students; a summer program for top seventh graders enrolled about 300 students. It will “close to double” enrollment this year; and more than 20 businesses are working with schools through the Executive PASS program. …

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Scott meeting with Jeb Bush, Chartrand, Thrasher

A day after his three-day education summit ended, Gov. Rick Scott plans to meet in Miami with former Gov. Jeb Bush, Gary Chartrand, chairman of the state Board of Education, and state Senator John Thrasher.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. today in Miami, according to Scott's daily schedule. It's not clear yet what the meeting is about. Chartrand and Thrasher were both participants in the education summit. Bush didn't attend, but Patricia Levesque, executive director of his Foundation for Florida's Future, was a participant. 

Scott organized the three-day event in Clearwater after a tough year in education for the state. Florida had another education commissioner resign. The state board voted to pad school grades at the 11th hour for the second straight year. (They'll consider in October whether to extend the safety net again.)

Scott didn't attend, but several of his staffers were present. Interim education commissioner Pam Stewart said that her staff and his were in communication with him during the event. …

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Raise for FPSU/SEIU will cost Pinellas $2.5 million

The Pinellas County School District reached a tentative agreement Wednesday with the Florida Public Services Union/SEIU Wednesday that would provide 5 percent raises for employees in transportation, food services, maintenance and plant operations. It will affect about 2,500 employees.

See our story here. The school district provided a bit more information about the raises today:

The total cost will be about $2.5 million, plus about $365,000 in "fringe" costs. 

The salary increases cover a large range - many of the affected workers are part-time - including a $200 increase for some food service workers who only work two hours a day and a $2,500 increase for a head plant operator at the top of the pay scale.

The agreement still is subject to approval by the School Board and the union. Votes likely will be held in September.

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Prominent Pasco private school plans expansion

Academy at the Lakes, 400-student private school in Land O'Lakes, has purchased 47 acres to expand its presence.

The PreK-12 school, founded in 1992, bought the $3 million property slightly north of State Road 54 and south of the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Center from the MacManus Charitable Remainder Trust. It has no immediate plans to build.

“We plan to take our time and carefully consider the ideal campus for us," head of school Mark Heller said in a release. "We want to make smart decisions that are prudent, in the best interests of the School and our students, and that will stand the test of time.  Building will commence after a lot of planning and when the time is right."

In the meantime, the school also recently bought a small parcel adjacent to its existing campus so it can "improve the overall curb appeal" there.


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Florida education news: School grades, raises, helper dogs and more

REGRADING: Participants in Gov. Rick Scott's education summit recommend changes to Florida's school grading system. More from the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, Associated Press, State Impact Florida, Herald-Tribune

RAISES: Pinellas noninstructional employees negotiate a 5 percent raise as contract talks end. • The Clay district and teachers union disagree over whether state funding for raises will go into the salary schedule, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Okaloosa teachers overwhelmingly ratify a raise proposal, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: Florida's PECO fund no longer keeps up with school districts' growth and other capital needs, the Florida Current reports.

HELPER DOGS: Some Polk students with autism make strides in class with the assistance of animals, the Ledger reports.

DRUG TESTING: Allegations that a clinic provided steroids to some Miami-Dade high school athletes prompts a proposal for random drug testing in the schools, the Miami Herald reports.

LAPTOPS FOR ALL: The Imagine charter school in North Port provides laptops to its students to assist their school work, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

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Pinellas, FPSU/SEIU agree to 5 percent raises

Pinellas County Schools and the Florida Public Services Union/SEIU reached a tentative agreement that would provide employees with a 5 percent salary increase, the school district announced Wednesday.

The raises are for the 2013/14 school year. When approved, they will be retroactive to July 1.

Rick Brant, a business agent for the union, said he was pleased to get 5 percent. He said some employees were taking home the same amount of money that they did in 2007.

The union represents about 2,500 employees from transportation, maintenance, plant operations and food service. Brant said this year about 1,200 people are in the lowest pay grade. He said those employees will go from $9.39 an hour to $9.86 an hour. Many of those employees are part-time workers, he said.

Bus drivers will go from $12.50 to start to more than $13 an hour, he said.

Employees in FPSU last year received, on average, a 1.5 percent raise. This is the largest raise the group has seen in more than 10 years, according to the district.

The salary agreement still is subject to votes by the Pinellas County School Board and the union.  …

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Chartrand says he's not in favor of banning books

Gary Chartrand, chairman of the Florida Board of Education, suggested Tuesday at the state's education summit that Florida develop a task force to screen reading lists for subjects that upset people. He specifically cited socialism and homosexuality.

"Math is math...reading lists get people fired up," he said. "If there is a way to screen the reading list, develop a task force or something."

Chartrand's comments came during a subgroup meeting at the summit in which participants were talking about how to convince the public that the Common Core State Standards are good for Florida. Members of his group suggested changing the name - they ultimately dismissed the idea, though another group thought it had merit - and said that strong leadership was needed from the top down to spread the message about Common Core.

Chartrand said Wednesday that some people misread his comments to mean that he wanted to ban books and that he objects to homosexuality. He said that his point was that critics of the Common Core could use reading lists to generate negative publicity. …

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Think tank pans Florida's school spending reporting system

Florida's education system has often won praise for its data collection and use. But not this time.

The conservative Cato Institute has issued a report grading states for the way they present education financial data to the public, and gave Florida a D- -- 30th among all states. Nineteen states got an F or F-, with Alaska at the very bottom.

Regarding Florida, the organization states that the public cannot easily compare per-student expenditures over time, and that the most current details are not included. The state also does not include employee benefits information in its data about employee salary, the Cato report says.

Additionally, the Florida Department of Education presents many of its financial reports in PDF format, making it harder to sort through, although its website is easy to navigate, Cato states.

Why report this? From the introduction: "When the state education departments provide incomplete or misleading data, they deprive taxpayers of the ability to make informed decisions about public school funding. At a time when state and local budgets are severely strained, it is crucial that spending decisions reflect sound and informed judgment." …

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