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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Time to reconsider Florida's Best and Brightest bonus, State Board vice chair says

For two years, Florida lawmakers have ignored criticism and put millions of dollars into bonuses based, in part, on teachers' college entry exams.

The Best and Brightest program has made it into the state budget, but not into law. That means the Legislature will have to consider the idea again when it reconvenes in 2017, this time with the program's most vocal proponent, Erik Fresen, and opponent, John Legg, both out of office.

Florida Board of Education vice chairman John Padget suggested Wednesday that lawmakers find better use for the money.

"I'm looking for course corrections that make sense," Padget said during a workshop on legislative priorities. "Spending money on a teachers' SAT score of 30 years ago needs to be revisited. Let's ask, what's the bang for the buck with that program?"

He suggested the money could go toward computer science programs, or STEM instruction, perhaps boosting pay of teachers in those fields.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart said her staff will be looking into best ways to attract top teachers into Florida's classrooms. She expected to consider the impact of Best and Brightest on the board's goal of recruiting and retaining those teachers. …

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Principal of troubled Hernando County elementary school resigns

Jamie Young, a well-regarded principal who had been assigned the job of turning around D-rated Moton Elementary School near Brooksville, submitted her letter of resignation on Tuesday. She cited a lack of resources for the school, the site of several programs for children with behavior and learning problems.

The previous principal, Mark Griffith, was removed at the end of last school year, and a district investigation showed several violations of district policy, including failure to adequately respond to reports of bullying.

Young's resignation is effective Friday. Staying longer, she wrote in her resignation letter, "puts my certification at risk and goes against my philosophy as a leader."

Full story to come at

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Florida education leaders call for fixes to third-grade retention rules

Florida's controversial third-grade retention rules, already the subject of a parent lawsuit, became the target for reform calls Wednesday at the State Board of Education's workshop on legislative priorities.

Speaking for the state superintendents association, St. Johns County superintendent Joe Joyner told the board his organization wants to see a move away from heavy reliance on a single test score to decide student promotion.

The state should "allow as much flexibility as close to the school district as possible to make those decisions," Joyner said.

Parents in six counties have challenged the existing rules, in place since 2003, which have set a Level 2 score on the state's spring reading test as the primary measure of whether a student has to repeat the grade. They have argued that some districts refused to consider other options, also in law, such as a portfolio of classroom performance. Officials in those districts insisted that students needed to participate on the test, which to them meant more than just signing in.

Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina told the State Board that the dispute highlighted the need for some clarifications in law. …

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Extra reading time pushes P.E. to the side in several Pasco County schools

Ten Pasco County elementary schools have come face to face with two competing legislative mandates for their students' time: One requires 150 minutes of weekly physical education, and the other an added hour of daily reading instruction.

They're asking the Pasco School Board to waive the P.E. to make room for the reading.

"For some schools (or grade levels), depending on their schedules, it is difficult to meet the required PE minutes in addition to the extra reading minutes," teaching and learning director Rayann Mitchell explained via email. "So the waiver gives them a little flexibility. For example, PE might be 30 minutes instead of 45."

The state law on physical education does offer some leeway for students in remedial courses. All the schools making this request appear on the state's Lowest 300 list for reading achievement on the Florida Standards Assessments. They are required to provide added daily reading lessons to all students who scored below Level 5 on that test. …

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Florida education news: School board seats, sorting hats, student prayer and more

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Retired college supervisor Linda Prescott wins a Hernando County School Board seat, while incumbent Gus Guadagnino heads to a runoff. * Incumbent Pinellas School Board member Ken Peluso loses his reelection bid to teacher Eileen Long, while two other seats are set for runoffs. * Hillsborough School Board incumbents Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes appeared to win reelection, while two other open seats will be decided in November.

THE SORTING HAT SAYS ...: Sulphur Springs K-8 Community School in Tampa adopts a "house system" to increase student engagement.

STUDENT PRAYER: A pastor gets the Hillsborough school district's approval to pray with student groups away from school.

RETENTION LAWSUIT: Seminole and Broward school districts also appeal a judge's ruling in Florida's third-grade retention case, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TURNAROUNDS: Polk officials hope for state approval of their improvement plans for five struggling schools, the Ledger reports.

OVERSIGHT: A Manatee school audit committee prepares for the possibility it will have to review the district's spending of local sales tax revenue, the Bradenton Herald reports. …

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Following the Money: A whole lot of glue sticks

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association is in contract talks with the district.


The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association is in contract talks with the district.

First up: No word yet on whether Hillsborough's teachers will get more money this year. They asked for $750 for each pay step on the new, post-Gates plan. As their raises come every three years, we calculate the impact at roughly $3.75 million (assuming the teacher scores at least an "effective" rating, which almost always happens).

That's half the $1,500 the union asked for when barganing began in May.

But remember: The pay plan that coincided with the Gates reforms increased teacher pay by $65 million, not including the $12 million in performance bonuses that brought the total impact up to $77 million. Union leaders say the new plan corrected problems and inequities that were especially harmful to long-time teachers. They also argue that, as long as teacher pay in Hillsborough starts at $38,000, the district cannot compete for talent with neighboring districts.

The union asked for a number of other things too, including a 1.2 percent adjustment for teachers at the top of the scale, a 1 percent cost-of-living raise for the small number who have not opted into the new plan, and multiple adjustments that would raise the earning power of teachers' aides and clerical workers.  …

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Florida Coalition of School Board Members gains stronger foothold

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members -- a group that broke away from the more established Florida School Boards Association over philosophical issues less than two years ago -- is continuing to secure its place at the table of Florida education decision-makers.

For the first time in its short history, the organization will appear before the State Board of Education to discuss policy issues right alongside the FSBA, state superintendents association and the college presidents association.

In its scheduled presentation during Wednesday's board workshop, the coalition is expected to discuss such ideas as allowing schools to return to paper-pencil testing, and expanding school choice options to include transportation.

School choice issues were the impetus for the coalition's creation. Members of several school boards across Florida took issue with the FSBA's participation in a lawsuit challenging Florida's tax credit scholarship program, and sought to promote a different, more conservative approach. So they stepped away. …

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It's name that school time again for Pasco County

The Pasco County School Board is back in the business of naming schools, as its construction efforts again are booming.

They went the location route this fall with the opening of Wiregrass Elementary School. Now they have two more opportunities coming up, with High School GGG on Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel  and Elementary B in the Bexley Ranch subdivision of Odessa getting ready to debut a year from now.

To prepare, the district has asked students, community members and other interested parties to submit naming ideas. They can be place-oriented, which has been the board's preference lately, but also can include other concepts including person names, such as Charles Rushe Middle, or broader themes, such as Veterans Elementary.

Recently, people have suggested naming schools after postmasters, former principals and presidents, among others. …

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Florida education news: Third-grade retention, testing, school security and more

DENIED: Hernando County students involved in Florida's third-grade retention lawsuit are not welcomed into fourth grade when they arrive at school with a judge's order. * The Hernando and Orange school districts, and the state Department of Education, appeal the judge's ruling, the Orlando Sentinel reports. More from WKMG.

TESTING: Critics say Florida's $4.8 million fine against contractor AIR for 2015 problems won't fix the state's underlying assessment troubles, the Sunshine State News reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Lake School Board kicks off its search for its next district leader, setting the salary at $195,000, the Daily Commercial reports.

SECURITY: St. Lucie district officials consider future actions to improve security at high school football games after a fight forces the suspension of one event, TC Palm reports. * Bradford County schools close in the wake of a telephoned bomb threat, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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That's a lot of glue sticks

How did the Hillsborough County School District stabilize its reserve account at $146 million, virtually unchanged from last year?

Clues are emerging as the district closes out the books on a difficult 2015-16.

Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders provided some of the numbers at Monday's teachers' union bargaining session, where the teachers asked for - but did not get - a cost-of-living pay that adds up to roughly $3.75 million.

(Here's how we do the math: Assuming nearly all 15,000 teachers are on the new post-Gates schedule, they get pay raises every three years, assuming they score at least an "effective" rating. The proposed pay adjustment would be $750, multiplied by 5,000 teachers. Not all teachers are on the new plan, but those who are not would get other raises.)

The bargaining session ended before the district team could get an answer from Superintendent Jeff Eakins and Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez. Talks will resume later this week.

Back to Saunders and those numbers: …

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Will the Pasco school district audit Mitchell High School's enrollment?

As word spreads that Mitchell High School's attendance zone might be redrawn to ease crowding, parents in the Trinity neighborhoods near the campus are asking Pasco County district officials to audit the school's enrollment.

Their concern centers on the possibility that not everyone who goes to Mitchell belongs there.

Parents have emailed the district, suggesting that "hundreds of kids" arrive at Mitchell school bus stops who do not live within the attendance boundaries. They contend that if all those children are rooted out, the School Board might not need to remove families that chose their homes to attend Mitchell.

District officials have remained open to the idea. They have noted that, by their count 147 students living outside the area attend Mitchell, while 149 who live in the zone go to other schools.

When a rezoning takes place, the district requires families attending schools through choice reapply.

But even if all those families were removed, deputy superintendent Ray Gadd observed, the need to create new boundaries is not likely to disappear. The school, built for about 1,700 students, had more than 2,200 in attendance after five class days. …

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Wanted: One new employee relations director for Pasco County schools

The Pasco County school district is in the market for a new employee relations director

Paul Meeker, who took the post overseeing employee discipline and contract negotiations less than two months ago, suddenly resigned the position for "personal circumstances beyond his control."

Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley told the School Board of the move Thursday, and said Meeker will remain with the district through September to allow for a smooth transition to a new department head. 

"His work to date has been excellent and I was thoroughly impressed with his ability to learn the work of Employee Relations so quickly," Shibley told the board.

Meeker took the post after Betsy Kuhn, who previously held the job, won promotion to an assistant superintendent spot. He had been a lawyer in the firm that serves the School Board before joining the district.

The job is an important one, in that contract bargaining has hit a rough patch over issues including salaries and teacher job protections. Both the district and the United School Employees of Pasco have taken firm stands on their proposals, with seemingly little flexibility at this point. …

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Hernando third graders promoted after judge's ruling, but not all to chosen schools

Hailey Everett, Maddison Hohman and Madelynn Kinkade sit in the office at Chocachatti Elementary, waiting to see if they can begin fourth grade.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Hailey Everett, Maddison Hohman and Madelynn Kinkade sit in the office at Chocachatti Elementary, waiting to see if they can begin fourth grade.

Hailey Everett, Maddison Hohman and Madelynn Kinkade arrived at Hernando County's Chocachatti Elementary School just before classes began Monday, ready to enter fourth grade. They left unhappy.

The Hernando County school district, blasted by a Leon County Court judge for its stance on third-grade promotion, had principal Lara Silva tell the girls' parents they could enter fourth grade at their zoned neighborhood schools -- just not at Chocachatti.

"They are not registered at this school," Silva told them.

She declined to comment to the Tampa Bay Times. School district officials did not return calls.

Only minutes earlier, the parents had learned that one of their co-plaintiffs in their lawsuit challenging Florida's third-grade retention rules had been allowed into fourth grade at his Hernando elementary school. [Update: There has been discussion since this post first published, questioning whether the child will be allowed into the fourth grade. We are still waiting for more information.] …

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Florida education news: Social promotion, tax credit scholarships, gifted students and more

SOCIAL PROMOTION: Researchers continue to question the value of holding students back in school as Florida's third-grade retention law moves forward. More from News Service of Florida.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Political and community leaders who opposed MaryEllen Elia's removal as Hillsborough superintendent haven't revived the issue in the latest round of School Board elections. * Education-related groups are focusing their attention on the 2016 elections, the News Service of Florida reports.

'NOTHING OF CONCERN': The leader of a Tampa private school returns to work after an investigation into allegations against him turn up nothing.

TAX CREDIT SCHOLARSHIPS: Lake School Board members say their schools might not have enough space if the courts overturn Florida's scholarship program, the Daily Commercial reports.

LABOR NEWS: The Highlands County Education Association seeks to maintain annual-contract employee protections as district leaders want to remove the agreement, Highlands Today reports. * Manatee teacher contract talks hinge on health insurance premiums, the Bradenton Herald reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, Week of Aug. 24, 2016

This week in Florida education news, the state's third grade retention law came up for its court hearing. The judge issued her ruling on venue and injunctive relief late Friday. Florida's tax credit scholarship program hit a new participation high. And a form allowing Leon County parents to opt their children out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at school sparked a firestorm. Get the latest Florida education news daily at the Gradebook.

Judge issues mixed ruling on Florida's third-grade retention law, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"A Leon County circuit court judge has come down in favor of families challenging Florida's third-grade retention practices, ruling that school districts ignored the children's right to alternative forms of promotion and the state Department of Education allowed that to happen."
ORDER: Rhea v. Stewart
BACKGROUND: Judge weighs Florida third-grade testing policy after contentious hearing, News Service of Florida, Brandon Larrabee …

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