Lightning is believed to have ignited a blaze in a building in an office complex on Florida Avenue late Thursday afternoon, causing about $300,000 in damage. Hillsborough Fire-Rescue investigator David Watts said the roof of 16017 N Florida Ave., a building in the Magnolia Center office complex, was destroyed by a fire that began around 6:25 p.m., and was probably ignited by a lightning strike. The spreading flames rendered the building unusable. It will be shuttered Friday until repairs can be made, he said. Firefighters brought the blaze under control around 8:30 p.m., Watts said.
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Hillsborough leads in merit scholars
Hillsborough County is winning the National Merit Scholarship competition in Florida, with more semifinalists than any other district, officials said. Fifty-three seniors from Hillsborough were semifinalists, including 11 from Plant High School and 10 from King High. Pinellas County produced 27 semifinalists, as did Miami-Dade.
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Exam schedule likely to improve
Having semester exams after the winter holidays might be a one-year problem for Hillsborough schools. The state considers Hillsborough a "high performing" district, along with 20 other counties, including Pasco. Such districts must earn an "A" grade for two consecutive years, have no failing schools and earn a clean bill of health in its financial and class-size audits. The upside? Districts can waive a few state requirements, like the one that says school can't start sooner than Labor Day. It was that mandate that forced Hillsborough this year to schedule exams after the holidays, to the dismay of many students and parents. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the district would "certainly" consider the earlier start for next fall.
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School bookkeeper charged with theft
A school bookkeeper being investigated by police and sued by the Hillsborough County School District has been charged with grand theft and official misconduct. Dianne F. Parker, 55, of 1002 Axlewood Circle in Brandon was the bookkeeper at Erwin Technical Center and worked for the school system for 29 years, officials say. She is charged with grand theft of $100,000 or more and official misconduct-falsifying records. In June, auditors discovered problems with her accounts, said superintendent MaryEllen Elia. The district said Parker stole more than $582,000 by delaying the depositing of some checks and money orders for several months at a time, and then depositing less than what they were worth. She was arrested Sept. 3 and was released the next day on $17,500 bail.