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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

More leaders weigh in on HB 7069

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaks with Gov. Rick Scott

Times file photo

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaks with Gov. Rick Scott

No, Gov. Rick Scott has not yet received HB 7069, the massive education conforming bill, or the education budget it's attached to.

That's giving everyone more time to continue offering their views on what he might do with the measures when they come to him for consideration.

The Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, a group of 13 school districts, sent Scott a letter joining many others asking him to veto HB 7069, which includes provisions ranging from expansion of Gardiner scholarships for disabled children to the creation of a new set of charter schools.

The group cites the budget's reduction in base student allocation as a key concern, noting that decrease will make it difficult for schools to meet inflationary cost increases or to give employee raises.

While HB7069 includes some provisions that were advocated for by superintendents and school board members; our primary objection to the bill is that the vetting process by legislators and the public was completely circumvented," coalition leaders Andy Ziegler and Linda Kobert wrote.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, now running for governor, also joined in the criticism. He also focused on the method. …

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Pasco County teachers should not be surprised by district finals, superintendent says

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning

Pasco County teachers and parents continue to raise complaints about the school district's local final exams in several courses.

They're suggesting the passing rates are way too low, and the scores count for too much on a student's report card.

"What research has been done to insure that this test is fair, non discriminating and that it accurately reflects the spirit of the standards, etc.?" one parent wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning, referring to a sixth grade world history test her child failed. "The district has advocated for less 'high stakes' testing and then presented the kids with this type of test that the teachers didn't even really know how to prepare the kids for."

Browning stressed that he does not want to minimize the concerns coming in. However, he said, the test content should not be surprising to teachers, who should be prepared.

They have the course description developed by the state, Browning said, and they have the standards attached to the courses. Moreover, he added, the district also provides blueprints of each course. …

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10 percent of Florida seniors retaking state reading test pass

Times file photo (2014)

As seniors across Florida walk across the stage and collect their diplomas, a small number of their classmates have learned they didn't meet one of the meet one of the state's testing requirements to graduate.

Without fanfare, the Florida Department of Education informed school districts on Friday that 90 percent of twelfth graders retaking the language arts Florida Standards Assessment did not earn a passing score. Students must pass the 10th grade test, or earn a concordant score on an alternate test, to qualify for a diploma.

A year ago, 16 percent of seniors passed the language arts retake.

They may sit for the test as many times as necessary to achieve a passing score, even beyond high school. See state graduation requirements for more details.

The number of seniors retaking the exam is small compared to the total number of twelfth graders statewide, just 17,626 of 197,953. Still, some lawmakers talked this year of trying to find an alternate path to a standard diploma for students like these, who struggle with the tests, because their future without a diploma is bleak.  …

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Florida education news: Budgets, principals, vouchers and more

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is pondering his options with the state's education budget.

Associated Press file

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is pondering his options with the state's education budget.

VETO TIME? Gov. Rick Scott weighs advice on whether to reject the Legislature's education budget. • Pasco County school officials make spending adjustments in anticipation of a budget they say will have a "chilling effect" on schools. • Broward County teachers urge Scott to veto the Legislature education conforming bill HB 7069, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP: A principal appointment for Pinellas County's St. Petersburg High is put on hold after information surfaces about the top candidate's past.

VOUCHERS: Some Florida students who receive Gardiner Scholarships turn to homeschooling to meet their needs, NPR reports.

TEACHER TRAINING: The University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee will train local teachers on Advanced Placement computer science courses, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A financially struggling 12-year-old Lee County charter school for students with special needs will close down, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

TEA TIME: Children at one of Palm Beach County's poorest elementary schools celebrates the end of the school year with high tea, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Eckerd grad presses for answers after closure of Program for Experienced Learners

Eckerd College

Times files

Eckerd College

ST. PETERSBURG — It’s not unusual for colleges to end programs or discontinue majors that suffer from low enrollment.

Eckerd College’s Program for Experienced Learners met that unfortunate fate after the number of new students dropped to just 20 in fall 2016, despite efforts to boost enrollment.

But a recent Eckerd graduate says the college’s explanation isn’t good enough. Ed Bozeman, 30, has hired an attorney and launched an online petition in an attempt to reverse the closure. He started a non-profit and plans to begin fundraising for the cause.

The petition alleges “mismanagement and evident negligence” of the program for adult learners. As of Monday, about 570 people had signed it, sharing their own experiences and dismay in the comments.

“There is strong reason to believe that PEL was targeted for closure years ago and intentionally starved of adequate resources until enrollments declined to a point where closure could be financially justified,” the petition reads.

Eckerd leaders reject Bozeman’s accusations. …

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Controversial pick for next principal of St. Petersburg High put on hold

Robert Gagnon, who currently serves as an assistant principal at Northeast High in St. Petersburg, was tapped to lead St. Petersburg High next year pending School Board approval. The recommendation for his appointment was pulled from the School Board agenda by school district superintendent Mike Grego on Monday in light of "new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's administrative experience in Lake County, according to an email sent to Pinellas County School Board members.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune archives

Robert Gagnon, who currently serves as an assistant principal at Northeast High in St. Petersburg, was tapped to lead St. Petersburg High next year pending School Board approval. The recommendation for his appointment was pulled from the School Board agenda by school district superintendent Mike Grego on Monday in light of "new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's administrative experience in Lake County, according to an email sent to Pinellas County School Board members.

Robert J. Gagnon was all set to be the new principal at St. Petersburg High, a plum position in the Pinellas County school district. His name was on a list of top administrative candidates to be approved at a special School Board meeting Tuesday. The job starts July 1.

On Monday, however, superintendent Mike Grego pulled his recommendation of Gagnon, saying in an email to board members that the action came "in light of new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's experience in Lake County.

The announcement came shortly after the Tampa Bay Times began asking the district about Gagnon's background, which is outlined in detail in news reports from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The newspaper reported in 2013 on Gagnon's role as principal at the Lake County Boys Ranch, a school for troubled boys that closed in 2000 after it was indicted on charges of Medicaid fraud and grand theft of $3 million. According to the Herald-Tribune, Gagnon and other school administrators were not charged because the state concluded that no one profited personally. …

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What would a veto of Florida's education budget do?

Every day brings Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature closer to an inevitable clash over the state budget.

County school superintendents from Miami to Pensacola want Scott to trash the K-12 education chunk of the budget that increases spending by $24 per pupil next year. A similar education-only veto of that size hasn't happened since 1983 when Gov. Bob Graham blasted his fellow Democrats' "willing acceptance of mediocrity" in public education.

Graham dramatically vetoed the education budget after midnight on June 30, 1983, after lawmakers refused to raise taxes, forcing school districts to start a new fiscal year with no new state money. They kept the lights on with reserves, property taxes and loans, and Miami-Dade Superintendent Leonard Britton said that was better than Tallahassee's "abandonment budget."

Britton told The Miami Herald that he wasn't sure Graham had the nerve to make such a big move. But he did. The Legislature did not override Graham's veto and after a quick special session of wheeling and dealing, he got most of what he wanted. …

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Pasco County schools continue preparations for anticipated budget

Students from Anclote and Gulfside elementary schools canoe during 2015 PEACE camp.

Times file photo

Students from Anclote and Gulfside elementary schools canoe during 2015 PEACE camp.

After warning that the Legislature's proposed education budget would "cast a chilling effect" on Pasco County schools, district officials began taking steps to offset what they projected to be an $8.7 million shortfall between anticipated revenue and expenses.

On Wednesday, the district human resources department put an immediate, indefinite freeze on instructional trainer and learning design coach jobs. The district has in the past prioritized those positions to help schools do such things as incorporate technology into classroom lessons, and to provide added support for teacher development.

"Although hiring is frozen, these positions remain a priority, and district departments will begin running pool advertisements for these positions. This will allow the district to proceed with maintaining a robust pool of qualified candidates for your future advertisements," HR department director Christine Pejot wrote to principals.

With the use of Title I funds potentially changing, the School Board last week also decided to scale back several summer programs so they do not extend into the next budget cycle. …

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Florida education news: Achievement gap, teacher survey, student testing and more

Times file photo

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: The Pinellas County school district creates a new plan to close the student achievement gap among races within a decade, as a settlement of a long-running lawsuit.

SURVEY SAYS: Hillsborough County teachers are happy, on average, but a closer look at some schools indicate concerns about students, schools and safety.

TESTING: About 43,300 Florida third graders face possible retention because of their performance on a state reading test. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of May 14, 2017

This week, the Florida education news was dominated by debate over the Legislature's education budget and massive conforming bill. Groups lobbied hard for and against the measures, as Gov. Rick Scott pondered whether to veto them once they land on his desk. But there was still time for other news, including test scores, school bus fees and possible changes to Florida's 20-year-old Bright Futures scholarship.

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. …

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Eakins and Stuart: Veto the schools bill

Jeff Eakins is Superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools.

Jeff Eakins is Superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools.

Here's the letter Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins and School Board Chairwoman Cindy Stuart sent this week to Gov. Rick Scott about House Bill 7069.

It pulls no punches, and forget about any notion that Hillsborough has been selling out to the charter school movement.

In this instance, they take a hard line against charter operators receiving discretionary capital tax funds, or being invited in to build "schools of hope" as alternatives to low-performing district schools.

"The Legislature has written a series of blank checks of totally unliminted amounts payable to charter school operateors and drawn on the bank accounts of the local property taxpayers," the letter says. 

The letter lists Title I antipoverty programs that would be endangered of the bill becomes law. These include after-school programs, summer school and parent engagement activities.

It also takes issue with the process by which the bill was crafted, calling it "the classic poorly constructed Legislative Train, amalgamating over two dozen, often un-related bills, including some that had no hearing  and one that was killed in a Senate Committee." …

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New Pinellas schools plan touted as 'turning point'€™ that would tackle achievement gap in 10 years

Students gather outside Campbell Park Elementary, one of several schools that would stand to benefit if the Pinellas County school district's plan to eliminate or narrow the achievement gap is successful.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Students gather outside Campbell Park Elementary, one of several schools that would stand to benefit if the Pinellas County school district's plan to eliminate or narrow the achievement gap is successful.

After more than a year of negotiations, the Pinellas County School District has reached a new agreement in a 16-year-old state lawsuit that accused it of shortchanging black students, unveiling a plan Friday to “greatly narrow” or close the achievement gap within a decade.

District officials and the plaintiffs in the case crafted the agreement behind closed doors, with a mediator, after informal talks yielded little progress. 

“We see this as a very significant turning point in this district,” said Ricardo Davis, president of Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students, known as COQEBS, which took over as plaintiffs in the case in 2010.

“I don’t think you’ll ever find a plan as comprehensive and as thorough,” superintendent Mike Grego said, adding: “I couldn’t be more excited as a superintendent to own this.”

An agreement hasn’t been announced in a separate but related federal desegregation case, which went into mediation at the same time. David Koperski, the school board attorney, said the district remains in mediation and couldn’t comment on those meetings. …

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Gradebook podcast: Third-grade reading test results, veto pressure and more

Times file photo

Florida's third grade reading test results came out Friday, giving students, parents and teachers the information they've been waiting for on the gatekeeper test. The results play a key role in whether students move on to fourth grade. In today's podcast, reporter Jeff Solochek and Tom Tobin talk about the data, which came out without advance notification, as well as the veto pressure being placed on Gov. Rick Scott over the education budget and conforming bill. Reporter Claire McNeill also talks about the Bright Futures scholarship as it turns 20 and faces a new set of challenges.

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Pasco County school district fills final principal vacancy

Melissa Bidgood

Pasco County school district

Melissa Bidgood

Melissa Bidgood, currently assistant principal of Wiregrass Elementary School, has been picked to lead Veterans Elementary School for the next school year. 

Bidgood replaces Gretchen Rudolph-Fladd, who recently transferred to Centennial Elementary School. She would be Veterans Elementary's third principal since opening.

Bidgood joined the district in 2004, teaching at Sunray and later Sand Pine elementary schools. She became a literacy coach in 2012, and moved into an assistant principal job in 2014.

Her promotion marks the completion of a shifting of school leaders throughout the district, which started in the winter because of the death of one principal and the promotion of others. More than a dozen schools now have new people in charge.

Other administrative moves announced Friday involve three assistant principals. Jessica Felice will move from Centennial Elementary to Watergrass Elementary, Charlene Tidd from Watergrass to Double Branch Elementary, and Heather Wallen from Double Branch to Wiregrass Elementary, replacing Bidgood.

The moves require School Board approval, which could come at the board's first meeting in June.

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Third graders improve passing rate on Florida Standards Assessment reading test

A three judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments on the third-grade retention case in February.

A three judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments on the third-grade retention case in February.

Florida's third graders had a higher percentage passing the state language arts test this spring than last, the second consecutive increase on the annual exam that helps determine whether children move into fourth grade.

This spring, 58 percent earned a score of 3 or higher statewide, up from 54 percent a year ago.

In the Tampa Bay area, Hernando and Pasco County students surpassed the state passing rate, with 61 percent and 60 percent, respectively. The Hillsborough and Pinellas districts both had 56 percent passing.

The highest passage rate in Florida came in St. Johns County, with 80 percent, while the lowest rate came in DeSoto County, with 31 percent.

Find the district and school-level data here. …

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