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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of April 16, 2017

Times file photo

It's not all about the Legislature in Florida education news. We've seen a principal tell her staff to place all white children together in classes, a district ban D and F grades for its youngest students, and school board members say they welcome charter schools to help deal with crowding. Read all about it 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 jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Legislature vows transparency on negotiating education policy. History says otherwise., Kristen M. Clark
"Conference is a common annual process for the budget, but lawmakers in recent years have shied away, in most cases, from using it as a vehicle to pass drastic policy reforms that are otherwise amended, debated and voted on on the House and Senate floors. By comparison to the day-to-day legislative process, conference committee proceedings typically are not transparent and are more unabashedly a display of a preordained outcome." …

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Northeast High's principal is a finalist for Principal of the Year

The principal of Northeast High School is a finalist for Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year award, state officials announced Friday.

Kevin Hendrick, who has been Northeast High's principal for eight years, is one of three finalists for the honor. Other finalists include: Earl Johnson, principal of Matanzas High School in Flagler County and Rachel Shelley, principal of Booker High School in Sarasota County. The winner will be announced during a ceremony June 21. 

Hendrick is credited with developing a finance academy at the school, which allows students to earn industry certifications. Under his leadership, Northeast High also has increased the number of Advanced Placement classes, seen an increase in the number of students who enroll in college, and an uptick in the average ACT score.

The 2017 Principal of the Year will get a $5,000 cash prize and $1,000 for their school. 

Candidates for the awards were nominated by their superintendents.

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Sides closer to contract agreement in Pasco County schools, union rep says

Pasco County school district and union officials continued to negotiate in December even after declaring impasse in contract talks.

Times file photo

Pasco County school district and union officials continued to negotiate in December even after declaring impasse in contract talks.

Special magistrate recommendations in hand, representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco and the county school district met this week to determine whether they could reach a final agreement on pay and other outstanding issues.

With significantly different interpretations of the district's finances coming from the two magistrates, the need for a compromise became more clear. The one who heard the school related personnel case sided more closely with USEP, while the officer who reviewed the teacher contract took the district's position.

USEP operations director Jim Ciadella acknowledged to the School Board that the goal was to avoid asking the board to make the final determination.

"That may come to you guys at some point," Ciadella told the board Tuesday. "We are hoping it doesn't come to that point."

On Friday, Ciadella said the sides are "very close" to getting things worked out. "We're trying to work out the final details," he said, without offering any specifics. …

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White students at Campbell Park Elementary 'should be in the same class,' principal emails staff

Campbell Park Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

Times

Campbell Park Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG - Principal Christine Hoffman emailed her staff at Campbell Park Elementary a detailed set of instructions on what classroom rosters should look like in the coming school year.

Among her requirements: students with a mix of reading levels, an equal number of boys and girls, no more than two students who frequently misbehave per class and this: “white students should be in the same class.”

That email, sent Tuesday, was forwarded to the NAACP Florida State Conference. It soon wound up in the inbox of Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP.

“I’m not usually at a loss for words, but I can tell you when I saw that email for the first time, I thought it was a joke,” Scruggs said on Friday.

Hoffman, who was promoted this year from assistant principal to principal of Campbell Park — a predominantly black school with a history of poor performance in south St. Petersburg — faces disciplinary action from the Pinellas County School District. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits schools from segregating students “on the basis of race, color, or national origin in making classroom assignments.” …

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Employee at Lake St. George Elementary receives state honor

David Melnick, a food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary, was named the 2017 School-related Employee of the Year at an awards breakfast in Orlando on Friday.

Pinellas County Schools

David Melnick, a food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary, was named the 2017 School-related Employee of the Year at an awards breakfast in Orlando on Friday.

A food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary was named the 2017 School-related Employee of the Year, beating four other finalists for the honor.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart presented the award to David Melnick at an awards breakfast in Orlando today. In her comments, she said that Melnick "goes above and beyond for the students" at the Pinellas County school and called him an example of the "tremendous" effect that school support staff have on the entire community.

Superintendent Mike Grego said that Pinellas County is "fortunate" to employ Melnick.
Melnick started a "Food Patrol Program" that teaches students about healthy habits. The program also has been credited with motivating students to do better in school. District officials said that he "works tirelessly to contribute to the health, well-being and overall education for the students."

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Gradebook podcast: Legislative trains, crowded schools, joyous classrooms and more

Vimeo

With the Florida Legislative session nearing its end, lawmakers have begun creating education bill trains tying together tangentially related issues such as testing and recess, or school turnarounds and teacher bonuses. Reporter Jeff Solochek and editor Tom Tobin talk trains in today's podcast, along with a discussion on how school districts are coping with growth, and a few other education matters. [Photo link: Vimeo]

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Florida education news: Testing, classroom efficiencies, religious expression and more

Times file photo

TESTING: The Florida House moves its bill on state testing reforms closer to the Senate version, making compromise more likely.

SEARCH FOR SAVINGS: A consultant recommends changes to Hillsborough County school classrooms to find efficiencies. • The Duval County School Board examines programs and departments for potential cuts, the Florida Times-Union reports.

PLAY TIME: House Speaker Richard Corcoran says advocates pushing a bill for daily elementary school recess should let the legislative process play out. More from the News Service of Florida.

TEACHER BIAS? A religious liberties group accuses a Hillsborough County teacher of denying student rights to religious expression while she promotes an LGBT agenda.

BAD ACTS: A Clay County student is investigated for having a "shoot list" at school, WJAX reports. More from the Florida Times-Union. • A Volusia County student is arrested for making threats against his school, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: The Marion County School Board agrees to not collect impact fees on new homes for the seventh straight year, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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Could a union be in the cards for USF's part-time teachers?

USF Tampa

Wikimedia Commons

USF Tampa

TAMPA -- Part-time faculty at the University of South Florida filed paperwork today to hold a union election, hoping to bargain for better wages, more stable contracts and health care benefits.

“The time has come,” said Patty McCabe-Remmell, who teaches professional and technical writing at USF. “We are charged with the care and the molding of students’ minds, and I take this responsibility very seriously and totally professionally. It’s only fair that we be recognized for this.”

Universities around the nation have come to rely heavily on non-tenure track, contingent faculty, who offer flexibility and expertise at fairly low costs. Meanwhile, tenure track positions have largely declined, meaning a glut of academics enter the workforce each year with few options for full-time teaching work.

In 2010, 16 percent of USF’s faculty were part-time, according to the Service Employees International Union. Now, the union says, they make up more than a quarter. (Nationwide, that number is much higher: Half of the nation's faculty work as part-time adjuncts, paid per class, often without benefits and job security.) …

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Religious liberties group files complaint against Hillsborough County teacher

An Orlando-based religious liberties group has filed a complaint against a Hillsborough County high school teacher, accusing her of denying student rights to religious expression while promoting an LGBT agenda.

In a letter to Hillsborough schools superintendent Jeff Eakins, the Liberty Counsel alleges that Riverview High math teacher Lora Jane Riedas barred at least three students from wearing Christian crosses on necklaces in her classroom, claiming they are "gang symbols."

The organization also claims Riedas takes part in LGBT political activism in the classroom.

"Ms. Riedas clearly seeks opportunities to engage in GLSEN-directed classroom activism, which has called on teachers to use its "Educator Guide" to promote GLSEN's views about homosexuality and gender confusion on "Day of Silence," and to do so this Friday, April 21, 2017," Liberty Counsel president Mat Staver wrote in his letter.

He accuses the teacher of violating several district policies and state rules on ethical behavior and political activities. And he demands that Eakins put a stop to the behavior. …

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Costs add up in Pasco County school attendance zone dispute

Fighting a challenge to the School Board's recently adopted attendance maps did not come without its costs, and some of those could be passed to county taxpayers.

The district received bills totaling $6,013.12 for Judge D.R. Alexander's time and travel to hear the cases, one for the west side and one for the east side.

Chief finance officer Olga Swinson said she expected the district to fully cover the expenses, and not pass along the charge. Before paying, though, she sought board attorney Dennis Alfonso's advice.

In an emailed response, Alfonso said it would be difficult to seek payment from the plaintiffs, as a practical matter.

"As a general proposition," Alfonso wrote, "an agency is responsible for the costs associated with the successful defense of challenge, unless it can demonstrate that the challenging party participated in the proceedings for an improper purpose or that the party or the party's attorney knew or should have known that a claim was not supported by the material facts necessary to establish the claim or would not be supported by the application of then-existing law to those material facts." …

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Gibson Phase III Report is here (Phase I and II too)

To read the full Phase III report from the Gibson Consulting Group to the Hillsborough County School District, click on these links:

Executive Summary

Chapter I: General Education

Chapter II: Technology

Chapter III: Exceptional Student Education

Chapter IV: English Language Learners 

Chapter V: Career and Technical Education

 

Here are the first two reports from Gibson:

Phase I 

Phase II

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Florida House moves closer to Senate on changes to state testing system

State Rep. Manny Diaz amends a bill on state testing Thursday to bring it closer to the Senate legislation on the issue.

The Florida Channel

State Rep. Manny Diaz amends a bill on state testing Thursday to bring it closer to the Senate legislation on the issue.

The Florida House took steps Thursday to bring its proposal for testing reform closer to the measure moving through the Senate.

Rep. Manny Diaz, sponsor of the "Fewer Better Tests Act," tied several of the ideas from that bill into a separate effort to allow parents and others to see certain state tests after students take them.

The Diaz amendment would, among other things:

- Eliminate the state Algebra II end-of-course exam,

- Require paper-based state language arts and math tests for third- through sixth-grade,

- Move the state testing window to later in the spring, and shrink it to a shorter time frame,

- Change the value-added model of evaluating teachers.

Diaz also moved to relabel a Level 3 score on the Florida Standards Assessments as "grade level" instead of the current "satisfactory." That provision was removed at the request of Rep. Shevrin Jones, the committee's ranking Democrat. It also did not make it through the Senate Rules Committee when proposed Wednesday as an add-on to SB 926, the Senate's testing bill. …

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Florida education news: Recess, lawsuits, population growth and more

State Sen. Anitere Flores has added a mandatory recess provision to her testing bill, which is becoming train legislation.

Associated Press

State Sen. Anitere Flores has added a mandatory recess provision to her testing bill, which is becoming train legislation.

CATCH THE TRAIN: Florida lawmakers begin amending key education bills to include priority issues, such as mandatory daily recess, as their spring session nears an end. More from the News Service of Florida.

IN THE COURTS: A lawyer for parents challenging Florida's third-grade retention law outlines her appeal on venue with new filings to the state Supreme Court.

GROWTH: Pasco County School Board members signal an unwillingness to tax current property owners to pay for new schools made necessary because of new homes.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Duval County School Board won't make a counteroffer to keep superintendent Nikolai Vitti from taking a job in Detroit, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Finalists for Flagler County superintendent meet with residents as part of their interview process, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

FUNDING: The Miami-Dade County school district gets its first bond rating increase in two decades, the Miami Herald reports. 

AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS: A Jacksonville city board debating how to fund summer camps and after-school programs gets tripped up over whether any of its money should go to schools, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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Pasco School Board members not thrilled with tax proposals related to impact fee plan

New homes in the Starkey Ranch subdivision and others have prompted calls for higher school impact fees.

Times file photo

New homes in the Starkey Ranch subdivision and others have prompted calls for higher school impact fees.

A committee examining a Pasco County School Board request to increase impact fees on new homes has talked quite a bit about other sources of revenue instead.

Members have asked for additional information on a sales tax or property tax increase to cover at least some of the costs associated with new schools made necessary because of growth. Tax revenue that pays for such projects would offset any impact fee. 

At least two School Board members have suggested the committee is wasting its time looking down that path. 

"I can't find a single current resident of Pasco County, or taxpayer, that favors that idea," Board chairman Allen Altman said. "Overwhelmingly, our residents feel that impact fees should help pay for their part of the cost of growth."

Altman, an active proponent of the district's past sales tax initiatives in support of school projects, said he would not involve himself in any way with a tax referendum to support growth. He called the idea "grossly unfair" and said he hoped the County Commission would "think about the citizens of Pasco County that are already here" when any recommendations arrive. …

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Lawyers outline venue arguments in Florida third-grade retention case

Times file photo

A group of Florida parents that has taken its challenge of the state's third-grade retention laws to the state Supreme Court must convince the justices on narrow venue issues before they can get to the heart of the matter.

They had their case thrown out by the First District Court of Appeal, which determined that the parents had brought their complaint to the wrong court. Local districts should be sued in their home counties, the appellate judges ruled.

This week, the parents' attorney filed her brief on why she thinks the First DCA got it wrong.

In her filing, lawyer Andrea Mogensen argues that following the home venue privilege when several governmental agencies are jointly challenged over the same issue creates a multiplicity of legal actions that defies common sense.

"Any benefits brought by application of the privilege will be lost exponentially by the waste of precious judicial and governmental resources," Mogensen wrote. …

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