Hillsborough workshop will explore what Tallahassee did for schools

Schools of Hope plans were tweaked and changes were made to teacher certification and bonus systems.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee on March 5.  (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee on March 5. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published May 31, 2019|Updated May 31, 2019

From approving armed teachers to banning anti-Semitism, the Legislature did a lot for schools this past session.

Hillsborough made it clear the district will opt out of the armed teachers part.

But other changes will affect the way it does business in the coming year, and School Board members will get a briefing at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

The workshop is public. If the district declines to webcast it, as has been its practice in recent months, the Tampa Bay Times will live-stream it on Gradebook’s Facebook site

Here is the PowerPoint district leaders will use, and here are some of the highlights:

1. Districts must follow detailed instructions on security, and the training required for their security personnel. Much of this was put in place in 2018. By Aug. 1, there must be a “standardized statewide behavioral threat assessment instrument” that all schools, including charter, will use.

2. Districts will have more flexibility for their mental health dollars. No longer will they be required to spend 90 percent on specified mental health activities.

3. Charter schools will be exempt from fewer security expenditures. This change might cost the district some money.

4. New requirements will speed the transfer of student records to appropriate authorities when a student is considered a threat to himself or others. Some staff training will be required, and this will cost an estimated $2,000. A threat assessment database could cost another $500,000.

5. The new mental health budget will cause the district to spend about $200,000 on five additional mental health professionals. In addition, the district expects it will spend $225,000 to train 5,000 employees in social emotional learning.

6. Charter school legislation does a number of things. It creates “Florida Opportunity Zones” for charter “schools of hope.” It ends the schools of hope program awards and replaces them with a new Turnaround School Supplemental Services Allocation. That system, among other things, allows a school district to enter into a formal agreement with a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization to provide wrap-around services including health care, drug prevention, food and clothing banks.

7. “Persistently Low Performing Schools” are redefined. To fall into that category, a school must have earned three grades lower than a "C" in at least three of the past five years, and no "B" grades in the last two years. The district now has 13 on the list, the highest number in the state. If school grades were to remain unchanged, Hillsborough would have 33 in the coming year.

8. The “Family Empowerment Scholarship” allows private school tuition assistance to families whose income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $77,250 for a family of four. The information must be spelled out on the school district website. This could take some students out of the district schools. The district has not estimated how many. For each child who leaves, there is a loss of $4,279.

9. Changes have been made to teacher certification laws. Among them: Teachers no longer have just one year, from hiring, to pass their General Knowledge exam.

10. ACT and SAT scores are no longer a requirement for a teacher to receive a Best and Brightest bonus.

11, If a school district passes a referendum to raise property taxes for school operational purposes, that money must be shared with charter schools. This does not affect Hillsborough’s sales tax referendum, which was for capital purchases such as air conditioners.

12. Religion is added to the list of factors in which students and employees are protected from discrimination.

The law specifically mentions anti-Semitism and, even more specifically, says schools cannot accuse Jews of exaggerating the Holocaust, nor can they demonize or delegitimize Israel. However, criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism of any other country may not be regarded as anti-Semitic, and students’ rights to free speech are protected under the First Amendment.