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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Committee recommends impact fee increase, added sales tax for Pasco County schools

A 10-member committee of parents and home builders discusses Pasco County school impact fee proposals Wednesday.

Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times

A 10-member committee of parents and home builders discusses Pasco County school impact fee proposals Wednesday.

A committee of Pasco County builders and parents is recommending higher school impact fees on new homes, plus more, for new school construction. 

Committee members contended a fee hike alone would not meet the district's school building needs. And they further worried that the School Board might not have the political will to seek other solutions.

Hoping to generate some "incentive" to act, the group split the difference.

It recommended the County Commission raise the impact fee by $2,300, on average, as soon as possible. It then proposed an automatic increase of another $1,850, on average, when the School Board votes to place a new sales tax referendum before voters -- regardless of whether the referendum passes.

"We as a committee need to make it emphatically clear in our recommendation that, while we are considering an increase in impact fees, these other sources are critically important," said committee member Scott Sheridan, of the Wiregrass Ranch development.

If the sales tax passes, the fee would shrink to reflect a credit for the amount the tax would generate. A 0.25 percent sales tax could generate another $176 million over a decade, according to school district projections. …

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Pasco County school district, employees reach contract deal

The United School Employees of Pasco declared impasse in contract talks in after a bargaining session in November 2016.

Times file photo

The United School Employees of Pasco declared impasse in contract talks in after a bargaining session in November 2016.

A nearly yearlong contract dispute between the Pasco County school district and its employee union ended amicably Wednesday, with the sides reaching agreement on the key points that separated them.

"We've been able to sign language to bring an end to impasse," district employee relations director Kathy Scalise said just after 1:30 p.m.

The United School Employees of Pasco declared negotiations with the county's largest employer had reached a point of no return in November. The sides have talked sporadically since, and recently sat through hearings before special magistrates who recommended resolutions.

Over the past week, they worked to secure a deal that did not require the School Board to impose any terms.

During four hours of talks Wednesday, the sides agreed to 3 percent raises for teachers and school-related personnel -- slightly more than the 2.65 percent the district originally offered in the spring, and slightly less than the 3.35 percent the United School Employees of Pasco requested.

District officials had insisted they had no more money to provide, while union leaders argued more money could be found in reserves and carry-forward accounts. …

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Pasco County school district to seek more funds for magnet programs

Pasco County's magnet schools have had more applicants than available seats since opening.

Times file photo

Pasco County's magnet schools have had more applicants than available seats since opening.

Hoping to expand academic options for children, the Pasco County school district recently turned to magnet schools as a new set of choices.

First came Sanders Memorial Elementary, followed by Centennial and Bayonet Point middle schools.

Each focused on STEM curriculum, but struggled in some ways to fully define themselves as different from the district's traditional campuses. Superintendent Kurt Browning has acknowledged in interviews that the district didn't fully comprehend the scope of the added demands required to make magnets stand apart.

One of the key needs was money. Sanders had some benefits because it opened as a brand new school, and could be developed with specialty classroom designs. Bayonet Point shared similar assets, having been renovated.

But the district had limited resources to put into programs and training — about $100,000 per middle school last year. And so now it's looking to improve upon that start as officials move to expand the model even further. …

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Florida educators wary of Title I provisions in House proposal

Hernando County elementary school students participate in a summer school program paid for by Title I funds.

Times file photo

Hernando County elementary school students participate in a summer school program paid for by Title I funds.

As Florida House and Senate leaders arrive at compromises over education funding for the coming year, worries remain among school district leaders and consultants about a proposal to change the way they use millions of dollars in federal Title I funds.

HB 7101, which now is in the Senate, would require that the money — intended to improve programs for economically disadvantaged students — be spread more evenly among schools, including charters.

The House has made no secret of its plans, having adopted a resolution early in the session urging Congress to turn Title I into an unrestricted block grant. But some observers are calling out the language in HB 7101 as harmful to the state's neediest students and schools. …

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Florida education news: Budgets, classroom computers, kindergarten restaurant and more

Florida House and Senate leaders have outlined an agreement for state spending in 2017-18.

Times file photo

Florida House and Senate leaders have outlined an agreement for state spending in 2017-18.

BUDGET DEAL: Florida House and Senate leaders compromise on spending priorities, agreeing to the Senate plan for higher education in exchange for the House position on charter schools and school district property tax rates. The Senate Appropriations Committee kept "schools of hope" and Best and Brightest award legislation alive for the conference discussions. More from Politico Florida.

FINANCIAL WOES: The Hillsborough County School Board approves controversial new school bell schedules to take effect in 2018-19, as they discuss their "dire" finances. Among the many concerns for Hillsborough schools is an aging collection of computers.

LEADERSHIP: Pinellas County School Board members praise district officials for their quick action to remove the principal of Campbell Park Elementary after questions of her actions relating to classroom assignments.

LIFE LESSONS: Kindergartners at a Manatee County elementary school learn about teamwork through running a restaurant for a day, the Bradenton Herald reports.

STAY AWAY: The Marion County school district will place signs on all campuses alerting sex offenders they are not allowed on the property, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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Florida Senate keeps Best and Brightest, 'schools of hope' alive for conference

With limited debate, with minutes remaining in a 4-hour meeting, the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved two controversial education measures that have been the subject of scorn from some corners.

The panel reported favorably SB 1552 to expand the Best and Brightest award to include more teachers and, for the first time, school principals. It also moved HB 796 to establish a "high-impact" charter school model and granting priority to certain charters seeking approval. The latter is related to the House "schools of hope" plan.

Chairman Jack Latvala told committee members that accepting the bills was important to put the Senate in position to have conference discussions with the House, which has prioritized both items. These bills were seen as key to the budget debate, which now has risen to the level of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Read more about the negotiations from the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau.

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U.S. News and World report ranks Tampa Bay high schools

U.S. News and World Report ranked Hillsborough's Plant High the 22nd best high school in Florida. The school, which has a 96 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 69, ranked 228th nationally.

Plant High's website

U.S. News and World Report ranked Hillsborough's Plant High the 22nd best high school in Florida. The school, which has a 96 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 69, ranked 228th nationally.

Tampa Bay high schools didn't quite earn top honors in U.S. News & World Report's Best High Schools rankings, but Hillsborough County at least has bragging rights for some of the best schools in the area according to the report's annual rankings.

Released Tuesday, the rankings show Plant High came in No. 22 among the top schools in Florida. The school, which has a 96 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 69, ranked 228th nationally.

Only one Florida school cracked the nationwide top 20 list: Pine View School in Sarasota County clocked in at No. 13 and topped the list of best high schools in Florida. Miami-Dade County schools crowded that statewide list, with four schools in the top 10.

Hillsborough's Newsome and Robinson high schools ranked 30th and 39th, respectively, and both earned gold awards. Two Pasco County high schools edged out Pinellas' top schools, with James W. Mitchell and Land O' Lakes high schools ranking 68th and 69th and took home silver awards. …

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Gradebook podcast: Why Florida teachers unions oppose bills to limit added guarantees on annual contracts

Teachers protest a 2011 move to limit new Florida teacher hires to annual contracts.

Times file photo

Teachers protest a 2011 move to limit new Florida teacher hires to annual contracts.

Florida lawmakers continued this week to press forward with legislation (SB 856 / HB 373) to stop school districts from offering guarantees extending annual teacher contracts beyond their one-year term, despite protests by teacher unions and even some district superintendents. More than half of the state's districts have made provisions to automatically renew the annual contracts of teachers who receive evaluations of "effective" or better and have no disciplinary problems on their record. Bill proponents argue the measure clarifies the meaning of "annual contract." In today's podcast, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Mike Gandolfo explains to reporter Jeff Solochek the reasons why educators oppose the proposed limits.

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St. Pete College board of trustees grows to five members

Bridgette Bello

Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation

Bridgette Bello

ST. PETERSBURG — As St. Petersburg College trustees prepare to interview candidates for SPC president, the board has quickly grown from three to five members.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott re-appointed Bridgette Bello to the board of trustees, where she previously served from 2013 to 2015.

Bello, 46, of Seminole is the president and first female publisher of the Tampa Bay Business Journal. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Last month, Gov. Scott appointed Katherine Cole, a Belleair attorney, to fill a vacancy on the board.

She and Bello join chair Bill Foster, vice-chair Nathan Stonecipher and trustee Deveron Gibbons.

All five face an important task: helping to select the college’s next leader.

According to her bio, Bello has led a decorated career in advertising and media for more than two decades.

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Conflict of interest in Pasco schools rezoning case? Plaintiffs say yes.

Judge Declan Mansfield

Times file photo

Judge Declan Mansfield

Declan Mansfield, the Pasco County judge assigned to hear a Circuit Court case challenging the school district's recent attendance boundary revision process, is married to county Clerk Paula O'Neil.

Dennis Alfonso, the attorney representing the School Board in the matter, counts O'Neil's office among his clients. O'Neil additionally twice conducted the swearing in of school district superintendent Kurt Browning.

These relationships have led James Stanley, a plaintiff in the rezoning case, to request the disqualification of Mansfield. Stanley "fears that Plaintiffs will not receive a fair trial or hearing because of this prejudice or bias," attorney Robert Stines wrote in a recent filing with the court.

Stines cited previous cases as precedent, including a Broward County case where an attorney in a case represented the judge's wife in a separate matter.

Alfonso has opposed the motion, saying it was filed too late -- 84 days after Mansfield was assigned the case -- and that the request did not meet legal requirements for disqualification. He contended the cases cited by Stines were not germane to the Pasco rezoning matter. …

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Florida education news: Budgets, bills, Black Lives Matter and more

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are at odds over spending.

Times file photo

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are at odds over spending.

STALEMATE: The Florida House and Senate see budget talks break down. If they cannot reach agreement, several education priorities could fall by the wayside.

ALL ABOARD: The Florida House loads up its testing bill with other education issues it hopes to move to passage in the final days of the spring session. More from the Miami Herald.

UNDER REVIEW: The principal of Pinellas County's Campbell Park Elementary will be moved to a district office while officials investigate her directive that white students be placed together in classes at the mostly black school.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Manatee County school district officials face parent questions over plans to move toward an inclusion model for students with special needs, the Bradenton Herald reports.

FREE LUNCH: Donors have helped cut the Palm Beach County school district's unpaid student debt for school lunch by more than $7,000, the Palm Beach Post reports.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: A Palm Beach high school student brings awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement with her specially designed prom dress, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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New principals appointed for three Pasco County elementary schools

Three more Pasco County elementary schools will be getting new principals, with another round of shifts announced Monday.

The changes come as a result of superintendent Kurt Browning's decision to replace Charlene Tidd at low-performing West Zephyrhills Elementary with Scott Atkins from Sand Pine Elementary.

Christine Twardosz is recommended to move from Centennial Elementary to Sand Pine, and Gretchen Rudolph-Fladd to Centennial Elementary from Veterans Elementary.

"We would advertise Veterans Elementary School seeking a candidate for next school year," assistant superintendent David Scanga advised the School Board.

All of the transfers would take place in late May or early June, allowing the principals to complete the current academic year at their existing campuses.

About a dozen other schools got new principals during this spring, as well, due to a mix of promotions, demotions and one unexpected death. Browning has said he is attempting to better match leaders' skills with the needs of each school.

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Campbell Park principal will leave campus

Christine Hoffman, principal of Campbell Park Elementary school in south St. Petersburg, has been called on to resign for sending an email to staff instructing classroom teachers that "white students should be in the same class."

Times files

Christine Hoffman, principal of Campbell Park Elementary school in south St. Petersburg, has been called on to resign for sending an email to staff instructing classroom teachers that "white students should be in the same class."

Christine Hoffman, the embattled principal of Campbell Park Elementary will leave campus while an "administrative review" is conducted, district officials said Monday.

Hoffman created an uproar last week when she sent an email to her school staff about classroom rosters for the coming year and said "white students should be in the same class" with no explanation or context. She later sent out a second email to staff apologizing for "poor judgment," and a letter went home to parents Friday with an invitation to meet with parents Monday morning and afternoon.

Hoffman requested the transfer off campus and will not return, said Lisa Wolf, a district spokeswoman. In her absence, an assistant principal will take over, assisted by a member of the school district's Transformation Zone team. Hoffman will be at district headquarters. It's unclear if she'll be reassigned to another school. 

Parents and community activists have been calling for Hoffman to resign. Pressed by parents to do so Monday, two eyewittnesses said that Hoffman refused and said "I am the best thing that has happened to Campbell Park." …

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Two Florida school districts, two rulings on teacher annual contract renewals

Florida teachers protested when state lawmakers eliminated the option of a continuing contract.

Times file photo

Florida teachers protested when state lawmakers eliminated the option of a continuing contract.

As Florida lawmakers debate how flexible school districts may be in awarding teachers annual contracts, some school district leaders are pushing for clarity.

They have pointed to two special magistrate opinions on the issue that arrived at differing takes on the 2011 law that did away with continuing contracts for any newly hired teachers.

Teachers in St. Johns and Pasco counties went to impasse in contract negotiations over demands that educators who received evaluation ratings of "effective" or better receive guarantees of another year's employment. District officials in each case insisted that the Legislature mandated annual contracts, without strings attached.

Magistrate Louis Imundo Jr. ruled in favor of the St. Johns teachers' request. Magistrate Mark Lurie sided with the Pasco County school district against the demand.

Each cited the law in his finding. …

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Florida House bill on testing becomes latest education train

Like its counterpart in the Senate, the Florida House bill on state testing -- once 8 pages long -- has become its chamber's vehicle to push forward a patchwork of education policy initiatives found in a variety of other measures working their way through the legislative process.

HB 773, which goes before the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon, would balloon to 76 pages with a strike-all amendment filed over the weekend by sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz.

If adopted, the proposal would include much of the original language, plus provisions added into HB 549 last week. Those included the elimination of the Algebra II end-of-course exam, a return to paper-based testing for third through sixth grades, a move of the state testing window, and the publication of certain state tests, among other items.

This latest amendment would bring in recommendations from several other bills, as well. Among those: …

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