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Marlene Sokol, Times Staff Writer

Marlene Sokol

Marlene Sokol has worked at the Times as a reporter, editor and columnist since 1988. After launching North of Tampa in 1996, she served first as its editor and later as a general assignment reporter specializing in the suburbs. She now covers education in Hillsborough County.

Phone: (813) 226-3356

  1. Four Hillsborough schools will get chillers with money that was earmarked for air conditioners at Lee Elementary


    First: This is what Hurricane Irma did to schools in Hillsborough County. This slide show, shared at a meeting Wednesday of the School Board's facilities committee, does not, of course, include the fire that consumed Lee Elementary on Sept. 12....

    Hurricane Irma toppled a large tree in front of Westshore Elementary School. This image and others are being assembled as the Hillsborough County School District prepares its claim to FEMA.
  2. Hillsborough School Board approves 2017-18 budget


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday approved a budget of $2.83 billion for the 2017-18 school year.

    Property taxes for schools will be $6.60 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a house valued at $125,000, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, the homeowner will pay $659.60, down from $690.60 the previous year.

    The district, the largest employer in the Tampa Bay area with a workforce of roughly 25,000, submitted a balanced budget, as required by law. But, as in prior years, expenditures will be greater than revenues, and the difference will be made up by transferring money between funds. ...

    Photo illustration. []
  3. Heart Association recognizes Jeff Eakins


    Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins was named the national Administrator of the Year, by the American Heart Association on Tuesday.

    The organization recognized Eakins and the Hillsborough district for including student health in the strategic plan, and approving hands-only CPR in 2015 as a graduation requirement.

    According to the district, the award also reflects;...

  4. A reorganization in Hillsborough will place safety under operations


    Staff at the Hillsborough County School District's safety office will work in the operations department, subject to a vote at this afternoon's School Board meeting.

    Significant? Maybe, maybe not.

    An argument can be made that safety, which is now a separate department and is listed on the website under Human Resources, serves as a check on the work of other departments.

    But that structure also can create a disconnect. It became difficult, for example, to keep track of hazardous walking situations at bus stops, and that's one reason why a lot of courtesy bus stops existed long after conditions no longer justified them....

  5. Hillsborough to move ahead on school budget, still uncertain about the cost of Irma


    TAMPA — As school officials in Hillsborough County move forward to finalize a $3 billion budget, it's impossible to say how much Hurricane Irma will end up costing them — or how soon they'll get money back from the federal government.

    Expenses include repairs that must be made to the schools, wages for employees who spent the weekend working at shelters, fuel, supplies and more than 34,000 meals....

    HIllsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins, center, says most of the district's buildings did not suffer damage from Hurricane Irma. However, as the district prepares to finalize its 2017-18 budget, it is tallying up storm expenses that include school repairs, wages for employees who staffed shelters, fuel, supplies and more than 34,000 shelter meals. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  6. More chances to weigh in on bell times


    In all the excitement surrounding Hurricane Irma, the Hillsborough County School District was derailed in some of its efforts to get public input about next year's arrival and dismissal times.

    As a result, two more public meetings have been scheduled; Thursday, September 21, 6:00-7:30 p.m., at the Riverview High School cafeteria, 11311 Boyette Rd.; and Tuesday, September 26, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Jefferson High School media center, 4401 Cypress St., Tampa....

  7. Sunshine in Hillsborough


    Hillsborough County School Board members will gather this week for these meetings;

    Tuesday, 9-11 a.m., - Full board workshop on National Association of Charter School Authorizers evaluation, School Board Auditorium, 901 E Kennedy Blvd. 

    Tuesday, 3 p.m.  School Board Meeting  and Final Public Hearing on Budget, School Board Auditorium.

    Wednesday, 11 a.m., - Facilities Committee Meeting, School Board Conference Room 223....

  8. "Business as usual," principals say, at two schools under one roof


    Their questions were mostly about the here and now. Where can I find my child at the end of the day? Where will he eat lunch? 

    One by one, principals Beverly Smith and Sharon Waite sought to reassure them that Lee Elementary and Lockhart Elementary can co-exist under one roof, each maintaining its own identity and traditions.

    "We're going to make this work and it will be successful," Waite, the Lockhart principal, told dozens of parents who gathered in the cafeteria on Monday morning....

    Sharon Waite is principal of Lockhart Elementary School.
  9. Hillsborough schools have full power


    The Hillsborough County School District just notified all parents, via email, that power has been restored at all of its schools. "Since many of the systems were down for a week, our maintenance crews will continue to check the systems and will be on call Monday for any issues that occur," the message said.

    Athletics practices can resume on Monday and game schedules will be updated....

  10. An invitation to Lockhart and Lee parents


    The work of rebuilding Lee Elementary School under Lockhart Elementary's roof continues Monday morning after the kids get settled in their classes.

    A breakfast meeting is planned at 8:30 a.m. for parents from both schools, and the program includes Superintendent Jeff Eakins, School Board member Tamara Shamburger and top brass from the district....

  11. Staff and volunteers work to create a 'first day of school' for Lee Elementary's displaced students


    TAMPA — It happens every morning, weather permitting, at 7:40.

    The kids get their wriggles out walking around a baseball field. They talk. They socialize. They prepare themselves for the day to come.

    The morning mile, as it was called at Lee Elementary School, will continue after the school's students move to Lockhart Elementary on Monday.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Lee Elementary, rich with history and contradictions, will move to another school...

    Volunteers organize donated school supplies at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School on Friday. Starting Monday, Lockhart will take in kids from Lee Elementary, which was destroyed by fire Tuesday. "We have received an outpour of love from our community," said Donell Underdue, Area 4 Superintendent for the Hillsborough school district. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  12. Hillsborough district seeks input on lost hurricane days


    Hillsborough County School District families and employees; Watch your email this weekend for information about an upcoming survey that will ask your opinion on how to make up the time lost to Hurricane Irma.

    It's not clear if any adjustment will be needed, Superintendent Jeff Eakins said, speaking about the issue briefly at Lockhart Elementary, where hundreds gathered to ready the school for Lee Elementary students and staff....

  13. School district: Lee Elementary had no sprinklers, but all schools practice fire safety


    TAMPA — Lee Elementary School had a world studies magnet program and a century-old brick building topped with a graceful cupola. Inside and out, it was the pride of Tampa Heights.

    But it didn't have fire sprinklers. And it wasn't alone.

    The Hillsborough County Public Schools use fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, emergency lights and flashing strobes to protect children in case of a fire....

    Like most Hillsborough County public school buildings, Lee Elementary had no fire sprinklers. It burned in a three-alarm fire on Tuesday evening, shortly power was restored to the Tampa Heights neighborhood. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  14. Lee Elementary had no sprinkler system


    Lee Elementary School, which was consumed by a three-alarm fire Tuesday night, had no sprinkler system, the Hillsborough County School District said Thursday.

    We wil update this report with more information about the 111-year-old building, the condition of its electrical system, and statistics on how many Hillsborough schools have fire sprinklers and how many do not....

  15. Irma gave public schools a chance to showcase their role — and they jumped at it


    TAMPA — Rhonda Combs had finished storing her photo albums and scrapbooks in big plastic bags. There was nothing left to do but go stir crazy, waiting for Hurricane Irma.

    So she drove to McKitrick Elementary School, where she teaches kindergarten, and saw volunteers escorting families to the classrooms where they would seek shelter. Combs found those assigned to her room. She helped carry some of their bags....

    Volunteers prepared Strawberry Crest High and dozens more schools to take in shelter residents during Hurricane Irma. Hillsborough County school officials made images like this available to the media in the days before and after the storm. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]