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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Gibbs student responds to fight video

A video of two girls fighting in the middle of a classroom at Gibbs High School caught the attention of the community this week, prompting dismay from some in the Pinellas County school system who say that such footage hurts the image of a school that has been making significant improvement.

Board member Rene Flowers mentioned it on her Facebook page. She told the Times that she was "extremely hurt" by the video.

Gibbs has struggled with a tough reputation for years. Last year, it had more out-of-school suspensions for fighting than any other Pinellas high school. It also had the highest rate of suspensions in general. School officials note that the school has improved its grade to a B and say that arrests and fights are down this year.

Now Alexandra Fox, junior class president, has written a letter in the school's defense. She said the way that Gibbs has been represented in the video is unfair.

Here is the full text of her letter: …

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FAMU board postpones vote on Elmira Mangum's contract

Florida A&M University's Board of Trustees will wait another week before it tries again to approve the contract for the woman it approved to become the school's next president, Elmira Mangum.

Several board members expressed concerns about some of the contract language, especially when it comes to severance and benefits for the president. The told the university's attorneys to negotiate further with Mangum and clean up some of the contract language.

The board is scheduled to meet again next Friday, Feb. 7, to review a revised contract.

The Times/Herald first reported on the details of the contract for Mangum on Thursday. She is scheduled to receive a base salary of $425,000 over the next three years, roughly $75,000 more than former president James Ammons made before he stepped down in 2012.

Some board members cited problems that arose with Ammons' contract as the reason behind their desire to spend extra time working on Mangum's agreement.

The state Board of Governors is expected to ratify Mangum's appointment on Feb. 20 if the FAMU board approves a contract by then.

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Hernando teachers' union proposes 'performance pay' for all

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County teachers have long received raises from year to year based on experience level.

It’s simple: Survive another year in the school district, jump a step on the salary schedule.

But that could soon fundamentally change for all teachers in the district.

The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association on Monday proposed eliminating these experience-based raises for ones based on performance on annual teacher evaluations, a move they say conforms with changing state statue.

“It gives us — both sides — the options to maintain fiscal responsibility, projected cost,” said John Imhof, a Springstead High history teacher and member of the union’s bargaining team.

He said he feels this proposal is a “best fit” for the county.

The proposal is a surprising one for a teachers union, which have traditionally been incredibly reluctant to tie performance to pay, citing the inability to properly evaluate teachers, a lack of funding and constituents evaluations.

The measure also goes farther than some other districts by placing all teachers on the same performance schedule and eliminating the traditional schedule, known as a “grandfather schedule.” …

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Guns in school back on Florida's political landscape

A year ago, amid national calls for more gun controls after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Florida state Rep. Greg Steube filed a bill to allow teachers to be armed in schools.

The bill failed in the Senate. The clamor for controls died down. And now Steube has filed his bill (HB 753) again.

The stated intent: "To prevent violent crimes from occurring on school grounds." Of course, gun control backers have questioned whether arming teachers will have the desired effect. Teachers groups also have opposed the idea.

Steube has noted in the bill that the goal is "not to mandate that a school have one or more designees as described in the amendments made by this act to s. 790.115, Florida Statutes; rather, the intent of the amendments is to allow the school principal or authorizing superintendent the opportunity to do so."

There is no companion bill yet in the Senate.

The House has another school gun-related bill on tap, as well. This one would seek to decriminalize faux guns on school grounds. It's based on a Maryland bill (never passed) that was sometimes referred to as the "Toaster Pastry Gun Freedom Act." (Here's why.) …

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New Florida Board of Education member has opposed evolution education

One of Florida's leading science education advocacy groups is taking issue with the appointment of former Highlands School Board chairman Andy Tuck to the State Board of Education.

The reason? His stance on evolution science.

Florida Citizens for Science took almost no time after Gov. Rick Scott's announcement to pull out a 2008 article — during the heat of Florida's debate over proposed standards revisions — that quoted Tuck as opposing the teaching of evolution as fact.

"As a person of faith, I strongly oppose any study of evolution as fact at all. I’m purely in favor of it staying a theory and only a theory," he said. "I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools."

Tuck, a citrus grower, joined the majority of the Highland School Board on this front, Highlands Today reported at the time.

"We have a problem," wrote Florida Citizens for Science, which has pushed hard to keep evolution in (and creationism out of) the state standards. …

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Florida education news: College prep, bus driver shortage, skim milk and more

GO TO COLLEGE: St. Petersburg College works with Seminole-area schools to emphasize the importance of higher education.

BUS DRIVERS NEEDED: The Pinellas school district is hiring to overcome a bus driver shortage.

AIM HIGH: Osceola superintendent Melba Luciano says her goal is to have the district outperform all others in Florida, the Osceola News-Gazette reports.

GO PLAY: The Broward County Commission seeks to limit television time and require skim milk at county early education centers, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

FINALISTS: Two candidates interview to become the next Flagler superintendent, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

GOOD JOB: The Lee School Board gives superintendent Nancy Graham high marks after six months on the job, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

TEACHING ENGLISH: Orange County students still learning English see academic improvement but could benefit from better teacher training, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

JEB SPEAKS: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush talks up Common Core with State Impact Florida.

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A first look at FAMU’s proposed contract for Elmira Mangum

The FAMU Board of Trustees meets Friday morning to discuss and approve the contract for presidential appointee Elmira Mangum. But the Times/Herald has received an exclusive copy of the proposed contract today.

FAMU representatives have been negotiating with Mangum over the three weeks since the board approved her as the university's first female president. She also must be approved by the state's Board of Governors, likely during the meeting next month.

Mangum will earn a base salary of $425,000 a year, which would put her in the upper third of Florida's 12 state university presidents , according to analysis by Florida Trend magazine . However, her total compensation will likely put her more in the middle or lower end of the pack.

She is eligible to receive up to a 10 percent bonus – or $42,500 annually – if she meets specific performance goals each year. Those goals and objectives have not been outlined.

The Legislature caps the amounts university presidents can be paid using taxpayer dollars to $225,000. FAMU’s foundation will have to provide the rest of the money for her salary and bonuses. …

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Pinellas delays decision on special education aide

Superintendent Mike Grego asked the School Board to wait before making a decision about whether to accept the recommendation of an administrative law judge to fire a special education classroom aide.

Rose Dacanay asked to speak before the School Board, but wasn't available Tuesday, he said. The board agreed to wait. Grego recommended nearly a year ago that Dacanay be fired. She appealed to the state, and a judge now has upheld Grego's original recommendation. 

Dacany worked at the Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center in Clearwater. She was accused of endangering students in wheelchairs multiple times by not restraining them properly. She also was accused of incorrectly using an arm splint on a student and not following a teacher's instructions.

She has worked for the school district since 2004 and has had five poor performance evaluations and seven disciplinary reprimands. She earned about $14,400 a year. She has been on unpaid suspension and could be entitled to a year's worth of back pay if the School Board decides to reinstate her.

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Pasco School Board to consider several policy revisions

Pasco County School Board members will take steps beginning Tuesday to update several district policies, as part of an ongoing effort to keep its operations current. Several of the changes come straight from state law, but some come from district efforts to do business differently. Among them:

- Superintendent Kurt Browning wants to commemorate into policy his preference that the district give charter school applicants time to respond to questions and concerns in their applications before he makes a final recommendation whether to approve the charter. The issue came up during discussions on Pepin Academies charter application, which also comes to the board for a 15-year contract on Tuesday. …

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Common Core foes unimpressed by commissioner's pledge to protect data

A promise by 35 state education commissioners including Florida's to keep identifiable student data out of the federal government's hands has received poor marks from several anti-Common Core organizations.

The groups, which have contended that new testing associated with the standards would mine student personal data for nefarious ends, issued a statement Thursday saying they weren't reassured by the state chiefs' reassurances.

"The letter is deceptive," Karen Effrem, co-founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, said in a release. "The states may not give the individual student test data to the federal government, but the cooperative agreement and the federal FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) regulations require or allow the consortia to give individual test and other student data to the feds without consent." …

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Florida education news: Budget proposal, classroom fighting, snow days and more

BUDGET NEWS: Gov. Rick Scott proposes an education budget that relies heavily on rising local property tax revenue. Scott's budget is more about politics than good policy, the Times editorializes. Orange County school officials aren't impressed by the proposal, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TROUBLING: Students stand by and watch as a Gibbs High teacher tries to stop two girls from fighting without any help. (w/video)

HISTORY: Brandon High's band director hears tales of the group's past glories as she prepares for the school's 100th anniversary celebration.

'YOU CAN'T FIGHT MOTHER NATURE': Panhandle school districts ask the state to waive the requirement that they make up missed snow days, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

STANDARDS: Volusia school officials and parents debate the value of the Common Core, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SAVINGS: A researcher pegs the value of Florida universities' education student internships in schools at $39 million, Central Florida Future reports.

DRIVE SAFELY: Broward officials propose a ban on parents using cell phones and other devices while driving on district campuses, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Former Highlands School Board chair to join state Board of Education

Gov. Rick Scott has made his next pick for the state Board of Education: citrus grower and former Highlands County School Board Chairman Andy Tuck.

The formal announcement came Wednesday, one week after state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand jumped the gun and broke the news during a public meeting. 

"It's only appropriate that on the Florida Board of Education we have a citrus grower," Chartrand said.

Tuck served as a member of the Florida School Boards Association from 2012 to 2013.

He replaces former state Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw, who resigned in October. 

His term begins Wednesday and runs through Dec. 31, 2017.

Scott must still appoint one member to the state education board.

Former member Barbara Feingold asked not to be reappointed when her term ended last month. Personal reasons drove the decision, she said.

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Legislative leaders want to lower cap on tuition hikes; Gov. Rick Scott outlines higher ed budget

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have proposed limits on future tuition increases, saying the change is needed to reduce the burden on the state's prepaid tuition program. 

They would accomplish this by capping the tuition differential that state universities are allowed to request from the Florida Board of Governors. Under current law, the universities can requested additional tuition increases beyond whatever is approved by the Legislature as long as the total net increase does not exceed 15 percent.

During the economic downturn, many universities requested and were approved for tuition differential up to the 15-percent cap.

With Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to tuition increases well known, that has become less of an issue in recent years. Last year, tuition was held flat and no universities asked for any differential. A few also went so far as to reject a 1.7 percent tuition increase tied to inflation per state law, but most did not. …

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Testing firm bills itself as 'right for Florida'

With negotiations to become Florida's test provider getting under way, ACT Aspire has taken the unusual step of launching a website to explain its benefits to Floridians.

ACT Aspire is one of five companies hoping win the state's lucrative contract for new standards-based assessments, along with Pearson, CTB/McGraw-Hill, the American Institutes for Research, and Pennsylvania-based McCann Associates. The state began looking for alternatives to the PARCC consortium in the fall, after key lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott called for a Florida plan for testing after the FCAT goes away.

PARCC did not bid, but could be selected if the other bidders don't meet the state's specifications.

Bidders aren't supposed to communicate with the Department of Education reviewers, who aim to keep the process above board to avoid protests in an already tight time frame. But that doesn't mean they can't reach out to constituents, who already have been vocal and somewhat influential about the state's accountability, testing and standards during this time of transition. …

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Weatherford, Gaetz to focus on tax credit scholarships, school grading formula

Expect debates on vouchers, school grades and charter schools this year. 

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session would include "restoring trust and integrity into the school grading system."

Parent groups (as well as some policy experts and superintendents) have called for an overhaul of Florida's A-F school grading system, saying the formula has become overly complicated and essentially meaningless.

Weatherford said he would also push for a "massive expansion of choice for families."

Step one, he said: expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship program, potentially to thousands of students, while considering new accountability measures.

What's more, Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they would prioritize expanding access to industry certification programs.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, noted that enrollment in industry certification programs had jumped from 954 students in 2008 to 61,730 students in 2013. He said he wants to remove the funding limit on Career and Professional Education classes, so that CAPE funding would be on par with Advanced Placement funding.  …

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