Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin has been asking pointed questions about the district's budget.
School districts across Florida have been grappling with financial concerns they contend lawmakers did not improve with a new state education budget. Reporter Marlene Sokol joins reporter Jeff Solochek to discuss the problems as they're manifest in Hillsborough County, which has local woes beyond anything the state has done.
Alachua County School Board member April Griffin speaks to the Florida School Boards Association summer conference.
Saying Florida's education issues require a fresh approach, Alachua County School Board member April Griffin has taken over as the new president of the Florida School Boards Association.
"By the end of this year I am hoping that we will begin changing the conversation, looking forward, and finding solutions instead of excuses," Griffin said at the organization's recent summer conference in Tampa.
She appointed new committee chairs for the group, which represents the majority of Florida's 67 school boards. Notably, Pinellas County board member Carol Cook no longer will serve as the Legislative Committee chair, a post she has held for years.
Cook lately has been helping with FSBA board training activities, and that work has been increasing. Her effort there took her out of the legislative loop.
"I really thought I need to put my time and energy into that," Cook said. She added that she intended to stay active during the legislative session, but that different voices might help.
"You need new blood sometimes to move it along,' Cook said. …
Thousands of children attend Florida charter schools, which are growing in number and now stand to receive capital projects local tax revenue.
#HB7069: Now that it's law, HB 7069 has a new target on its back: Will it be challenged in court? Broward County Democrat Sen. Gary Farmer says he's doing all he can "to make sure this bad piece of legislation is not going to harm our public schools." It's not just the Dems who are agitating. Bay County Republican Sen. George Gainer, who reluctantly voted for the measure, argues that without meaningful changes — particularly in the charter school realm — trouble is looming for public education. The social media response to Farmer, who opposed the bill, has been largely positive. To Gainer, not so much. An example: "too many people who supported the bill now express concerns. Where were you when we needed you." Who else is noticing? Ratings agencies. Moody's has called the bill's capital funds sharing plan "credit negative" for districts with large numbers of charter schools, the News Service of Florida reports.
NEW HORIZONS: A Hillsborough County high school assistant principal resigns his post to travel. He's 32, without family. "I always told people, 'Never delay something you really want to do.' Now that applies to me," Scott Hazlett explains. …
Sen. George Gainer, a Panama City Republican, was expected to oppose HB 7069 in the state Senate's final vote. He spoke against the imbalance of treatment between charter schools and traditional public schools during that debate, and said he wouldn't take much more special favors for charters.
In the end, he backed the bill but said he would take the issue under greater consideration going forward. This week, he told MaryEllen Klas of the Times-Herald Tallahassee bureau that without fixes, problems lie ahead:
Gainer said he remains "very much a fan of the governor," however, he adds to Kelley's warning that that if lawmakers don't return next session to fix the inequitable treatment between charter and traditional schools "we're all in trouble."
He said his reluctant vote for HB 7069 "is not a vote I'm proud of...They gave the charter schools more than they should have. The bill was a take-it or leave-it deal. It came like a thunder-cloud, then lightening struck, and it was over."
Dr. Rachel Shelley, center, is Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year.
The principal of Booker High School in Sarasota was named Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year during a Wednesday celebration.
Rachel Shelley, who took over Booker High in 2011, received the honor for being a hands-on instructional leader who values the use of data in making decisions, but also a relationship-based leader who works with individual students and staff to get the best from them.
"School leaders set the tone for educators, students, parents, and community members, and they are integral to student success," education commissioner Pam Stewart said in a news release.
Kevin Hendricks, principal of Northeast High in Pinellas County, also was a finalist.
A growing body of research highlights the importance of principals in their schools' performance.
"We need to take more seriously that school leadership really matters," said Jason Grissom, an associate professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University who has studied the subject.
Critics of Florida's newest expansive education law, which covered issues as wide ranging as charter school funding and student sunscreen application, are waiting and hoping for a legal challenge to the measure.
Most eyes are turning to Sen. Gary Farmer, a Lighthouse Point Democrat who offered the most withering attack on HB 7069 during both legislative sessions this spring -- even when other dubious lawmakers tempered their assault.
A trial laywer and one-time lobbyist, Farmer first challenged the conforming legislation on several procedural grounds, contending the Senate violated its own rules in considering and adopting a bill with so many prongs. The Senate Rules chairwoman, Lizbeth Benaquisto, deemed his concerns out of order, and the bill moved forward.
LABOR NEWS: The Pasco County school district kicks off 2017-18 contract talks, with new priorities after the passage of HB 7069. Job protections for teachers on annual contract are out, eliminating VAM from teacher evaluations is in. • The Pembroke Pines charter school system cuts its raise offer in half — to $500, the Sun-Sentinel reports.
Steven J. Kunkemoeller, 56, turned himself in after a warrant was out for his arrest on charges of racketeering and organized fraud. Kunkemoeller owned businesses that sold goods at inflated prices to charter schools. He is accused of pocketing that money for personal expenses, including $175,000 for his home mortgage.
One of two businessmen accused of swindling 15 charter schools throughout Florida, including six between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, turned himself into authorities Wednesday after being charged with racketeering and organized fraud.
Steven J. Kunkemoeller, 56, of 793 Watch Point Drive in Cincinnati, was booked into the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola at 1:15 p.m. He was released minutes later on $100,000 bail.
According to an affidavit, School Warehouse received $375,000 in 2014 from Newpoint-managed charter schools in Pinellas and Duval with markups as high as 165 percent. It said Kunkemoeller used $175,000 of that money for his home mortgage, and sent the remaining funds to a company owned by May, who used it to pay down his home equity line of credit.
Jail records do not show May as a current or released inmate. He faces two charges of racketeering, one charge of organized fraud and $600,000 bail.
Dr. Tonjua Williams, St. Petersburg College's incoming president
ST. PETERSBURG — As a $6.2 million budget shortfall looms for St. Petersburg College, its new leader will make about $30,000 less than outgoing president William Law Jr.
When lifelong employee Tonjua Williams takes the reins in July, if she accepts the contract SPC trustees have approved for her, she will make $300,000 in base pay with a deferred compensation package of $55,000. She will also get 30 days paid leave per year, and SPC will provide a car for her to use.
The board's decision about Williams' contract comes in the wake of nine staff layoffs, part of the college’s response to a tight budget year fueled by declining enrollment. Law wrote a memo to SPC faculty and staff last week explaining the cuts.
He thanked SPC staffers for working with him “to tighten your belts” and cut expenses in the last nine months. The college reduced its operating budget by $1.8 million, froze some positions and eliminated vacant ones. Still, Law wrote, the layoffs were necessary.
“It is not easy to deliver this news and I do so with a laden heart,” Law said. “However, I believe it is the right thing to do for the institution and the students we serve. I wish things could be otherwise.” …
Students eat lunch at Kids Community College in Riverview
If you were listening at the beginning of Tuesday's day-long Hillsborough County School Board budget workshop, you heard district leaders say they project 21,626 charter school students when classes resume in Aug. 10.
That's a huge jump from the past year's 17,723, and about one tenth of all students.
But charters are all the rage, and cutbacks in bus service for middle and high school students might be a game-changer for some families.
BROOKSVILLE — After two days of contentious discussion on whether Pasco-Hernando State College president Timothy Beard should keep his job, the board of trustees decided he will — at least for one more year.
Beard, whom the board selected to lead the college in spring 2015, has been criticized by some board members, who say his leadership skills are subpar. After much deliberation, the board agreed unanimously to extend the president's contract by one year. His performance will then be reviewed again by the trustees.
While annual evaluations of college presidents are required by the state, college officials said this year was the first time the board held a public workshop prior to their vote.
Normally, the board chairperson is responsible for reviewing evaluation data and making a recommendation to the members. But this year, Chairman Edward Blommel said the sharp variation of the results made the task too daunting without a board discussion.
On Monday morning, the trustees met to hash out their thoughts on Beard's performance. Praises and criticisms flew back and forth while Beard sat, listened and offered an occasional rebuttal. …
District officials told the committee when it first convened that it must follow Florida's open meetings laws.
The parents argued that Facebook conversations among committee members indicated they had discussed some of the issues among themselves, outside the Sunshine. They questioned whether a "full, open and independent" review took place.
The district contended that nothing inappropriate occurred.
"Even if the stuff they alleged in their complaint is true, it does not constitute a Sunshine violation," School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said.
But Judge Byrd gave the plaintiffs the room to make their case in court. Depositions are scheduled, with a hearing scheduled for July 21. …
Hoping for a quicker resolution to negotiations than in 2016-17, representatives for the Pasco County school district and employees kicked off a new round of collective bargaining this week, with the aftermath of the legislative session in full view.
Issues the United School Employees of Pasco had pursued before, such as job protections for well-evaluated teachers on annual contract, no longer will come into play as the legislature outlawed the practice in HB 7069. Hope for another round of pay raises also faded with a state budget that district officials said accounts for growth but not inflation.
"We understand the fallout from 7069 is going to hamper some of the financial obligations of the district in regard to how they divvy money our to schools and support programs," USEP president Don Peace told the Gradebook. "We're going to have to take a look as to what that means to the bottom line."
Peace said the union wants to preserve jobs and programs, and protect student learning.
"In a year that's not going to reap enormous financial benefits, we want to make sure we take care of our people in a way that is promoting the best opportunities for them to benefit," he said. …
Students use new technology in the Rushe Middle School media center.
Over several years, the Pasco County school district has added new televisions and projectors into campuses to make it easier for teachers and administrators to make presentations.
All but a handful have gotten upgrades. And those now look like they'll have to wait longer.
During a budget workshop Tuesday, chief finance officer Olga Swinson recommended the School Board eliminate that $724,500 budget for the coming year.
It's part of a plan to keep at least $5 million in a fund balance for capital projects. Other cuts include $642,000 to telecommunications upgrades and maintenance; $310,000 in computer hardware, servers and software; $217,500 in pavement maintenance; $53,500 in lift station upgrades, $103,500 in athletic equipment; $103,500 in band instruments; and $103,500 in energy retrofits.
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley told the board he hoped at least some of the television and projector replacements would take place, to ensure equity among all schools.
"Right now, we don't know where we're going to get the funds to do that," Shibley added.
The board continues to work on balancing its budget. The first budget public hearing takes place in late July.
Gradebook features education articles and insights on schools in Florida, focusing on Tampa Bay area schools. What's the latest from the Florida Department of Education? How is the FCAT being used to compare Florida schools? What's going on in Tampa Bay schools? Get an insider's view from the Times education reporting team.