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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Satanic student clubs use Christian clubs as precedent

Student prayer at a Good News Club meeting in Pasco County, 2009


Student prayer at a Good News Club meeting in Pasco County, 2009

We've written extensively about Christian organizations in the public schools, which are protected under the Equal Access Act as long as adults do not assume leadership roles.

While that particular law applies only to middle and high schools, organizations operating under a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision also organize Good News Clubs in some elementary schools. The clubs meet during after-school hours, teaching Scripture and engaging the children in activities with Christian themes. "The purpose of Good News Club is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living," the sponsoring organization, Child Evangelism Fellowship, says on its website.

The next logical step?

The Satanic Temple wants to introduce After School Satan Clubs in schools around the nation, the Washington Post reports.

We don't know of any in the Tampa Bay area -- the only one in Florida that is listed on the organization's website is in Pensacola.

But read on; The Satanic Temple wants after-school Satan clubs in every school that also has a Good News Club. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 24, 2016

Florida school districts continue to prepare for the return of teachers and students, tackling issues ranging from daily schedules to teacher hiring. Leaders worked to make sense of recently released school grade data, looking for ways to implement improvements where needed. Meanwhile, candidates for school board and superintendent entered their campaign home stretch, with elections just weeks off. Keep up with Florida education news daily at the Gradebook. Send your thoughts to

Pinellas brings back recess, but it won't be the same at all elementary schools, Colleen Wright
"The district has not handed schools specific guidelines on how recess should be conducted because [superintendent Mike] Grego said principals and their staffs know what would work best for their schools, as many schools have limited play space. So recess will be held at different times and in different manners at every school." …

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On the campaign trail in Hillsborough

With exactly a month before voters cast their ballot in the Hillsborough County School Board races, the better-funded candidates are beginning to send out their mailers.

This piece, from incumbent Susan Valdes, highlights work Valdes has done to get diplomas in the hands of students who would otherwise leave certificates of completion.

Valdes faces an energetic challenge from Bill Person, a former teacher, principal and district administrator who is campaigning largely in the West Tampa area of District 1.

Watch the Tampa Bay Times' Tampa Tribune section for its upcoming Know Your Candidates report on the 17 candidates who are running for four seats.

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Discipline gap just won't go away

A task force spent more than two years discussing ways to reduce racial disparities in discipline in the Hillsborough County Public Schools.


A task force spent more than two years discussing ways to reduce racial disparities in discipline in the Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Yet again, the Hillsborough County School District has taken steps to reduce racial disparities in discipline, and the efforts have yielded mixed results:

Children are spending more time in class.

But those who are taken out of class, far too often, are black.

This was the case when the district began studying its discipline policies in 2013 and when, following a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the district began to reform those policies.

Data from the first full year of Superintendent Jeff Eakins' new discipline approach shows the trend has continued.

The highlights:

Total days for in-school suspension (ISS), out-of-school suspension (OSS), and ATOSS (alternative to out-of-school suspension) were reduced by 23 percent between the 2014-15 school year and 2015-16.

That change reflects a new policy that requires permission from an area superintendent before a school can hand down a suspension of more than five days. 

Student arrest decreased by 17 percent -- 19 percent for black students, 12 percent for Hispanic students and 21 percent for white students.
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Controversial Pasco County teacher retires rather than fight for job

Language arts teacher Michael Maynard has proven a lightning rod in his recent two jobs in the Pasco County school district.

He faced suspension and involuntary transfer from River Ridge High School in January, after several students complained about his comments and demeanor. He eventually took a reassignment to Anclote High School, where he found himself on the outs after less than a week in his classroom -- again based on student complaints.

Maynard had planned to fight for his post in front of the School Board. Members were working to schedule a hearing date for his appeal of superintendent Kurt Browning's termination recommendation.

But the veteran teacher has decided to end his battle before that session could take place. He sent a retirement letter to the board late Thursday, with the header "It's Over."

He explained his thinking this way: …

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Pasco teachers union blasts teacher training mandate at six turnaround schools

Leaders at some of the six low performing Pasco County schools under the state's watch have told their teachers to come to mandatory training sessions, in preparation for new turnaround efforts in the 2016-17 academic year.

That order from the top has the United School Employees of Pasco crying foul.

Citing several sections of the district's teacher contract, USEP president Kenny Blankenship shot off a "cease and desist" letter alerting the administration that principals cannot force teachers to attend these sessions.

"USEP would consider the implementation of this practice as a unilateral change in working conditions for our teachers and an unfair labor practice," Blankenship wrote. "The decision to move in this direction would, at the very least, require negotiations, and this has never been done in spite of USEP's request to be engaged in the planning for the DA schools of Pasco County since February 2016."

He told the Gradebook that the administration did not bring any requests or information to contract talks as late as Thursday. …

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Former Hernando deputy superintendent lands at Ridgewood High school

BROOKSVILLE - Eric Williams, who last month said he abruptly left his job as Hernando County's deputy school superintendent to "seek other job opportunities," has found one in a lower-level position in Pasco County.

Williams has accepted a job as assistant principal at Ridgewood High School, an appointment due to be approved by the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hernando County Superintendent Lori Romano has picked his replacement, executive director of academic services Gina Michalicka.

Read full story here.

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Florida education news: Recess, outreach, school grades and more

PLAY TIME: All Pinellas elementary schools will provide some form of daily recess.

DECENTRALIZED: New leaders take over Hillsborough's eight school regions.

REFUND TIME: The FCC finds that AT&T overcharged the Dixie and Orange school districts, the Gainesville Sun reports.

COMMUNICATION: The Brevard school district launches an improved app for parents to get school information, Florida Today reports. * The Palm Beach school district prepares to provide more details about its plans for a proposed new sales tax, the Palm Beach Post reports. 

HIT THE ROAD: 47 students complete the Bay school district's first driver education course in a decade, the Panama City News Herald reports.

ECONOMICS: Highlands district officials note their schools' poor performance on state accountability measures correlates to the county's high poverty level, Highlands Today reports. * Flagler School Board members decry the disparity between the district's required local taxing effort and the per-student funding it receives from the state, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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Pasco school district to limit midyear job transfers for teachers, superintendent says

Since 2013, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has talked about restricting teachers' ability to transfer from one district school to another in the middle of the year.

Beginning Monday, Browning plans to do something about it.

"We're through," he told the Gradebook. "No more midyear transfers, effective Aug. 1."

With few exceptions, which must be approved by an assistant superintendent, teachers will not be permitted to switch jobs until the position they want to leave is filled by a permanent, certified replacement, Browning explained. 

"I do not want kids to go without a qualified instructor in the classroom," he said, suggesting the domino effect of moving people often results in children somewhere receiving subpar education. "At the end of the line, you end up with a substitute in a room teaching calculus, and that's unacceptable."

Transfers of administrators also would receive careful consideration, and also be scaled back, because of similar concerns. …

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Florida Department of Education to take comments on charter school capital funding rule

Capital outlay funding for Florida's charter schools became one of the most charged debates in the 2016 legislative session, ultimately yielding new law on which schools qualify for the money.

Among the changes, charters may receive funds after two years in operation rather than three, a nod to complaints that corporate charter schools could outlast and squeeze out independents. It also disqualifies charters with two consecutive D grades from getting the money, along with F-rated schools, which already were barred.

The Florida Board of Education at one point was to adopt rules implementing the law in June, but delayed action when staff did not have the language ready. Now, the item is set for a public rule workshop via conference call at 10 a.m. Friday. Interested parties can call (888) 670-3525 and use the participant code 9945174167.

Want more information first? Check out the proposed rule here.

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Newest Pasco School Board member calls for improved communication with parents

In her first notable foray into school district politics a year ago, Colleen Beaudoin took on Pine View Middle School's aggressive attempt to adopt and implement a new curriculum and calendar with minimal parental input.

She convinced the school's leadership to slow down and listen to concerns, which in turn got her interested in running for School Board. Unopposed in her bid to replace retiring District 2 board member Joanne Hurley, Beaudoin looks to that 2015 experience as she formulates her approach to the job.

"My biggest thing is communication," said Beaudoin, who will take the oath of office in November. "I'd like to see improved communication from our school leaders to parents and the community."

She noted the district's headfirst dive into Twitter and Facebook, and suggested it's simply not enough to get information out there.

"I feel like our primary mode of communication should not be social media. I feel like if I'm not on social media, I'm missing something," Beaudoin said. …

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Florida education news: Back to school, alternate tests, social media monitoring and more

BACK TO SCHOOL: Tampa Bay area students and teachers return to school earlier than usual this summer, as district leaders take advantage of a law change relating to the first day of classes. See the rest of the Tampa Bay Times back to school coverage here.

TESTING: Some central Florida school district officials push for more options than the Florida Standards Assessments, WFTV reports.

STICKY FINGERS: A former member of a Polk high school's athletic booster club is arrested on accusations he took club money for personal use, WTSP reports.

PRYING EYES: Florida school districts increase their use of social media monitoring, News 13 reports.

WORKING FOR PENNIES: High school athletic coaches are paid much less in Florida than in other states, the Herald-Tribune reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Marion County's only charter high school sees enrollment soar, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. * A controversial Orange County charter school is allowed to move ahead after cutting its planned enrollment in half, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

DROPOUT PREVENTION: Two struggling Bay middle schools add teachers to help at-risk students, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

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A magnet lottery, kind of, sort of

Hillsborough teachers don't want to have to wait months to find out if their children got into magnet and choice schools.

Hillsborough teachers don't want to have to wait months to find out if their children got into magnet and choice schools.

Ever wonder how students are chosen for magnet schools? There's a lottery, right?

But it's not the kind where someone pulls numbered balls out of a jar.

The district uses "a race-neutral weighted lottery process" outlined in this document.

Extra points are given if you live in a certain neighborhood, speak a certain language or belong to a certain income group, all in the interest of maintaining diverse student populations.

There are also points given to children whose siblings are in the magnet schools'; and children of school district employees. The rationale for the last weighting is plain and simple: "To support Hillsborough County Public School employees."

Teachers union leaders raised the issue during Wednesday's bargaining session, which did not go very far as the union wants more money and the district didn't really offer any.

As the two sides were discussing when to meet next -- the idea being that the district will be in a better position to bargain once it closes out the books on the 2015-16 school year -- executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins offered up an idea that will not cost anything at all. …

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About that back rent lawsuit -- New Springs responds

New Springs Schools on Busch Boulevard is in a rent dispute with its landlord. But the charter school's principal says it is well funded not in any danger.


New Springs Schools on Busch Boulevard is in a rent dispute with its landlord. But the charter school's principal says it is well funded not in any danger.

Gradebook reported Monday that New Springs Schools' landlord has sued the charter operator for back rent.

The school's principal, Oguz Tekin, said this about the matter on Wednesday:

"The lawsuit is entirely without merit and will be defended vigorously. The New Springs School has never missed a required payment of rent and is well financed.

What the suit does not say is that the landlord has never completed the required renovations that would allow use of the third floor of the building for school classrooms and other programming, as required in the original lease signed in 2010. As a result, the school has been paying the landlord rent for the first and second floors only, with the third floor rent to commence once the third floor becomes usable. In fact, the school just installed a new roof on the building at its own expense because the landlord failed to do so, as required by the lease. The new roof was a necessary first step in renovating the third floor. …

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Pasco school district officials continue to seek balance in 2016-17 budget

With its first budget hearing scheduled for early next week, the Pasco School Board has set forth its proposed property tax rate for the coming year. Property owners would see a slight decrease of 33.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, as part of the Florida Legislature's move to reduce their local tax burden.

The recommended rates, which represent the maximums the board can adopt, still leave a gap of about $6 million between anticipated revenue and expenses. District budget officials continue to pore over the details to arrive at balance by the time the board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, chief finance officer Olga Swinson said.

"We're working on the roll forwards to make sure we have an accurate estimate," Swinson said, projecting the amount at close to $3.2 million.

Costs associated with providing an added hour of daily reading instruction at 11 low-performing elementary schools remain a wrinkle in the plan. The board is set to consider spending $400,000 of Title I funding to cover 11,275 hours of staff time associated with the state-mandated program. But that's not the full cost.

"We're still trying to identify all the needs," Swinson said. …

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