Make us your home page
Instagram

Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What you need to know about the 2017-18 Pinellas County School Board budget, tax rates

The Pinellas County School Board holds its first public hearing on the $1.5 billion district budget and a reduced tax rate for 2017-18. The hearing will start at 5:01 p.m. at the Pinellas County Schools administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo.

Pinellas County School Board

The Pinellas County School Board holds its first public hearing on the $1.5 billion district budget and a reduced tax rate for 2017-18. The hearing will start at 5:01 p.m. at the Pinellas County Schools administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo.

Following a delayed funding calculation from Tallahassee, the Pinellas County School Board is ready to publicly discuss the proposed budget for the 2017-18 school year. 

The first public hearing on the tentative $1.5 billion budget and revised tax rate will be held today at 5:01 p.m after it was rescheduled from July 25. Board members will discuss levying a proposed rate of $7.01 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, which is lower than last year's rate of $7.32.

Despite the lower rate, many tax bills will grow because of a 7.7 percent increase in taxable property values. The new rate is expected to bring in $16.6 million more in school district revenue.

This budget does not factor in salaries for teachers and support employees as negotiations with labor organizations have not been completed. It also does not factor in recommended updates to the district's five-year capital outlay plan, which are scheduled to be discussed Sept. 12. …

Full Story

Following the money: School board members want to talk about money. But will they?

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County School Board's new Finance Committee met for the second time ever, and some interesting remarks were made.

Staff and board members acknowledged it's hard to make substantive changes in the way the district spends nearly $3 billion because program leaders practice "self preservation." In other words, money is spent so employees can hold onto their jobs.

Absent a transparent process of evaluating programs to make sure they are helping students, that problem will not go away.

"I'm always amazed with a budget as large as we have, that there's not more discussion on financials," said board member Melissa Snively, a member of the committee. "I've been in a lot of organizations with much smaller budgets that spend much more time talking about finances than we do."

Board member Tamara Shamburger bemoaned what she considers a clear lack of focus. "There seems to be an identity crisis," she said. "Are we an educational institution or are we an employment agency? What are we? We haven't decided what we are. This is a multibillion dollar entity and we have to run it like one." …

Full Story

Pasco County school district to sell two surplus land parcels

The Pasco School Board will consider selling 9.29 acres just north of Odessa Elementary School.

Pasco County School District

The Pasco School Board will consider selling 9.29 acres just north of Odessa Elementary School.

The Pasco County School Board will consider selling two unneeded pieces of land Tuesday. The projected sales price for the acreage: $186,213.

One site sits just to the north of Odessa Elementary School and the district's new compressed natural gas station and bus depot, off Interlaken Road. The board purchased 19 acres at the location, but is getting rid of 9.29 acres that are separated from the main site by a wetland. The district got one offer for the property, at $136,212.

The other parcel is a 2.55 acre strip of land to the west of Anclote High School in Holiday. It was reserved as right-of-way for the future extension of Sweetbriar Drive, which is no longer planned. The district got one bid for the land, at $50,001.

If approved, the sales would underscore district officials' message to county leaders that the offloading of unused property to help pay for future new schools is not a viable path. That idea came up during committee discussions about whether the county's school impact fee should go up, or if other revenue sources could offset some of the need. …

Full Story

Pasco Elections Office looks into deputizing principals for student voter registration

Hillsborough County teens register to vote while in school in 2015.

Times (2015)

Hillsborough County teens register to vote while in school in 2015.

With the 2018 election campaign right around the corner, and interest high in politics, the Pasco County Elections Office is gearing up to launch high school voter registration drives. 

This year, it's considering an extra step to protect educators who encourage their students to sign up. The office has asked the district for permission to deputize every principal as an Elections official, so each can legally accept completed registration forms and forward them to Supervisor Brian Corley for processing.

"This negates the teacher from having to register with the state as a [third party voter registration organization] and protects them from legal repercussions," Corley wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning. "This has been done in other counties successfully for several years."

Browning knows much about this law, having served as Florida secretary of state when the law on third-party registration organizations was enacted. He had to threaten a Santa Rosa County teacher who registered several students counter to that law. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Recess, dual language immersion, enrollment growth and more

Scott Keeler | Times

PLAY TIME: Heeding parent demands, Florida lawmakers this year required all traditional public elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of daily recess. Will it really happen? The devil is in the details, and some "recess moms" worry the state's minimal guidelines to districts will lead to little change

DUAL LANGUAGE: Two Hillsborough County elementary schools with large Spanish-speaking populations will divide instruction time between English and Spanish to promote biliteracy. • Polk County ESOL students get a two-week jump start on the school year, the Ledger reports.

CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT: College students accused of sexual assault fight back against the campus justice system they say mishandled their cases.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Collier County School Board sets its 2018 legislative priorities, which include a request that new rules come with a longer implementation period, the Naples Herald reports. …

Full Story

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 24, 2017

Can you believe summer break is nearing an end. Schools are about two weeks from starting classes, and officials are still trying to figure out what all the new rules of HB 7069 mean -- not to mention whether they want to sue the state over it. They're also working on new employee contracts, and firming up their spending plans.

Catch up on the week's highlights below. You can keep up with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who'd like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to [email protected].

District to Hillsborough teachers: Suggested pay raises would break the bank, Marlene Sokol
"Paying Hillsborough County public school teachers what they want this year could put the school district more than $100 million in the red, officials said Wednesday." …

Full Story

Pasco County School Board members not talking HB 7069 lawsuit

The Pasco County School Board does not have plans to discuss suing the state over HB 7069.

Times (2016)

The Pasco County School Board does not have plans to discuss suing the state over HB 7069.

Unlike their peers across Florida, Pasco County School Board members are not contemplating a lawsuit against the Legislature over HB 7069, the far-reaching education bill signed into law this summer.

"I don't know if that would be best for us," board member Colleen Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin mentioned that she traveled to Tallahassee to oppose the measure, which requires districts to share capital projects tax revenue with charter schools, among other things. She also urged her delegation via email to vote against the legislation.

But at the end of the day, she said, the bill became law and districts have other pressing matters to handle, like having schools ready for when teachers and students return.

"I'm not totally against [the lawsuit], but I'm not going to bring it up," Beaudoin said. …

Full Story

Lawsuit challenging Florida's third-grade retention law quietly ends

Three Hernando County girls sit in the Chocachatti Elementary School lobby in fall 2016 waiting to learn if they can enter fourth grade. Their families challenged the state retention law, saying children should not need to pass the state third-grade reading test to win promotion.

Times (2016)

Three Hernando County girls sit in the Chocachatti Elementary School lobby in fall 2016 waiting to learn if they can enter fourth grade. Their families challenged the state retention law, saying children should not need to pass the state third-grade reading test to win promotion.

From the missed it while on vacation files: The Florida Supreme Court has refused to hear parents' complaint against the state's third-grade retention law, leaving intact an appellate court ruling against the parents' position.

In its one-page order, issued July 17, the Supreme Court denied a request for review of the appellate ruling, without explanation. It did not leave open the option of a rehearing.

Andrea Mogenson, the lawyer representing parents from Hernando and other counties, had contended the First District Court of Appeals had misapplied law relating to venue. The parents filed suit in Leon County, but the districts argued that they should be sued in their home counties. The DCA agreed with the districts.

The DCA also praised the "laudable purpose" of testing as a way to determine whether a student requires more reading instruction. The parnets had contended their children need not sit for the state test, and that their report cards and other course work should suffice for purposes of gaining promotion. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Schools of Hope, substitute pay, testing and more

The Florida House released a video in July touting HB 7069 and its Schools of Hope provisions.

Florida House of Representatives

The Florida House released a video in July touting HB 7069 and its Schools of Hope provisions.

SCHOOLS OF HOPE: Hillsborough County school district leaders have expressed their displeasure with portions of Florida's sweeping new education law, HB 7069. But that doesn't mean they're above taking advantage of it where the provisions might help. Officials are now contemplating how to access a grant worth $2,000 per student, to help transform some of the state's lowest performing schools. The district has more schools eligible for the fund than any other. • Palm Beach County now has more schools on the Lowest 300 list than any other but Hillsborough, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Hillsborough School Board members also are considering whether to join a lawsuit challenging the bill, which a growing number of districts are joining, as the Sunshine State News reports. Orange County is among the latest to join the conversation, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SUBSTITUTE PAY: The Pasco County school district proposes a new category of "professional substitute" with higher daily pay to fill classroom vacancies of 30 days or more.

BUDGETS: The Hernando County School Board anticipates increased tax revenue because of rising property values. …

Full Story

Hillsborough could cash in with HB 7069 grants

Folsom Elementary School is one of 18 in Hillsborough that are eligible for "Schools of Hope" funding.

HCPS

Folsom Elementary School is one of 18 in Hillsborough that are eligible for "Schools of Hope" funding.

There's still no word on whether Hillsborough County will join a growing number of school districts suing the state to challenge the legality of House Bill 7069, that sweeping state education law that, among other things, limits how districts can use federal ant-poverty funds

But here's a wrinkle: Twenty-five schools statewide stand to get financial assistance under the "Schools of Hope" component of the bill. And Hillsborough has far more eligible schools than anyone else. The district, which also has more low-reading schools (39) than any other, has 18 schools the state considers to be "failing," and these do not include about a half-dozen schools such as Potter Elementary that are already in state-supervised turnaround programs. By comparison, Miami-Dade has five schools on the new list, Orange County has six, Pasco has two and Pinellas has five. The whole list has only 93 schools on it.

Districts must submit improvement plans for all the schools.  They're asked to describe steps they would take to "identify, recruit and reward instructional personel," as well as improved teaching strategies. …

Full Story

Pasco school district seeks more certified substitute teachers

Long-term substitute Kim Herdell teaches at Anclote High School in 2014. The Pasco School Board will consider creating a new tier of substitutes for the next school year.

Times (2014)

Long-term substitute Kim Herdell teaches at Anclote High School in 2014. The Pasco School Board will consider creating a new tier of substitutes for the next school year.

Aiming to attract more highly qualified substitute teachers, the Pasco County school district administration has proposed creating a new pay level with tougher criteria to fill long-term vacancies.

Human Resources director Christine Pejot is asking the School Board to approve the "professional substitute" position to fill openings of 30 days or longer. Those subs would have to hold a bachelor's degree or higher and also have current certification in at least one subject area. The pay would be $160 per day, nearly double the amount that "long-term" substitutes of 11-29 days receive.

The professional substitute slots would coincide with absences of teachers who have requested extended leaves.

With that change, "parents can rest assured their children are being taught by someone who is qualified," Pejot said.

In recent years, some parents have complained that their children have lost learning time when less qualified subs take over the classrooms. The district has worked for years to try to improve its fill rate.

Past coverage: Pasco aims to address challenges for substitute teachers …

Full Story

Judge rules against charter schools in Florida funding case

Mark Gotz of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools questions the rationale behind proposed charter school rules before the State Board of Education in March.

The Florida Channel

Mark Gotz of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools questions the rationale behind proposed charter school rules before the State Board of Education in March.

An administrative judge has determined that the Florida Board of Education did not overstep its bounds by barring charter schools with poor state grades from receiving state capital outlay funding.

The board had both the authority and the duty to adopt its rule, based upon legislative intent, judge Darren Schwartz wrote in his recently released order. Schwartz rejected the contention that the board went beyond the scope of the enabling legislation by defining the term "satisfactory student achievement" to equate to school grades.

In the rule, the board states that charter schools receiving two consecutive D grades, or one F grade, from receiving money for construction, maintenance and related expenses. …

Full Story

Florida education news: back to school, budgets, lawsuits and more

Students enjoy lunch at Kid's Community College in Riverview, one of several charter schools to pop up locally in recent years, giving parents more to think about as they choose a school for their children.

CHRIS URSO | Times

Students enjoy lunch at Kid's Community College in Riverview, one of several charter schools to pop up locally in recent years, giving parents more to think about as they choose a school for their children.

WHAT'S NEW: As they return to school in August, Florida students will find they have some new rights, courtesy of a state Legislature that was busy this year when it came to education. These range from the ability to speak more freely to the chance to get a little down time. Not all the rules apply to everyone equally. But barring a legal challenge, they'll be in place for the first day of school. Here are eight ways Florida's public schools will be different this year, Jeff Solochek reports.

PAY RAISE: Paying Hillsborough County public school teachers what they want this year could put the school district more than $100 million in the red, officials said Wednesday. That amount includes a deficit of more than $50 million caused by lower state funding levels and rising costs. The teacher raises and associated expenses would add another roughly $65 million, Marlene Sokol reports, Marlene Sokol reports. …

Full Story

Florida education news: #HB7069 lawsuits, budgets, teacher's union tussle and more

The Pinellas County School Board meets in August 2015 at district headquarters in Largo.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Pinellas County School Board meets in August 2015 at district headquarters in Largo.

#HB7069 LAWSUIT: The tally of Florida school boards taking legal action against the state has risen to five. On Tuesday three school boards from Bay, Lee and Volusia counties voted to join the lawsuit with Broward and St. Lucie school boards that challenges the controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. The Miami-Dade School Board and Polk County School Board could be next to join, too. Pinellas County School Board's attorney David Koperski on Tuesday evening said those school boards have pooled $95,000 together, which may be enough to cover legal expenses. Pinellas is expected to make a decision on whether to join the lawsuit by August 15.

SURVEY: Two years after Hernando school district leaders suggested an employee-based evaluation of Superintendent Lori Romano, the results - showing feedback both positive and not so - are now public. Some responses praised the superintendent's firmly set vision to get the district to an "A'' rating and her ability to present well to the public. Meanwhile, others called for her resignation, criticizing her lack of transparency and communication skills, and calling her administration style "fear-based." …

Full Story

Following the Money: Report on district's financial woes blames everyone but the district

Since the Hillsborough County schools' budget crisis erupted two years ago, members of the public and even the School Board have spotlighted extravagant spending practices in the large district.

These include a no-bid, $324,000 yearly contract with a local Cable television group. They include grant-funded programs that are sustained, at district expense, after the grants run out. Case in point: The final months of teaching reforms under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which ultimately paid $80 million instead of the $100 million that had been announced.

They include busing children to dozens of magnet schools that, in some cases, are low-performing and do little to promote racial integration. They include operating 20 schools that are a half to a third empty instead of consolidating some and selling the real estate. …

Full Story