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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

NAACP Legal Defense Fund responds to Campbell Park Elementary principal's email

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which has long represented plaintiffs in a 50-year-old federal desegregation case against the Pinellas County school district for shortchanging black students, issued a statement Thursday in response to an email that instructed school staff to keep white students together in class in a predominantly black school.

The email, sent April 18 by Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman, was written with no context or explanation. 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.”

Hoffman on Monday requested a transfer to district offices while she is under investigation by the school district's Office of Professional Standards. School district officials confirmed that Hoffman would not return to Campbell Park after the investigation concludes.

The Legal Defense Fund is currently in mediation with the school district, as are the plaintiffs of a separate state lawsuit, which also alleges the district discriminates against black students.  …

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Hillsborough school district fires its HR chief

Stephanie Woodford, the Hillsborough school district's chief of human resources, was fired Thursday.

MARLENE SOKOL | Times

Stephanie Woodford, the Hillsborough school district's chief of human resources, was fired Thursday.

Stephanie Woodford was "relieved of her duties" as the Hillsborough County School District's head of human relations "with cause," district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said Thursday.

There was no information about what the cause was. Efforts to reach Woodford by phone were unsuccessful.

Woodford will be replaced, on an interim basis, by Marie Whelan, the district's general manager of employee evaluation. The district will conduct a search for a permanent replacement.

"The superintendent recognizes that Ms. Woodford has made valuable contributions to the school district during her years of employment," Arja said.

Woodford, the former principal of Wilson Middle School in South Tampa, held other jobs in administration before former superintendent MaryEllen Elia named her human resources chief in 2013. She was paid $148,000 a year to oversee a workforce of 26,000.

Woodford was one of 13 cabinet-leved administrators who current superintendent Jeff Eakins asked to reapply for their jobs in 2016. But, with many personnel-related changes under way, he changed his mind and did not go through the application process in her case. …

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Administrative judge rejects parent challenge to east Pasco County school rezoning

Parent Doug Wood testifies during a March hearing on the validity of the Pasco County School Board's attendance boundary revision process.

Parent Doug Wood testifies during a March hearing on the validity of the Pasco County School Board's attendance boundary revision process.

Second verse, same as the first.

State administrative law judge D.R. Alexander on Thursday upheld the Pasco County School Board's recent redrawing of east-side middle and high school attendance zones, rejecting a parent complaint that the process was flawed

Alexander used the same logic in this ruling that he employed in a similar case challenging a revision of west-side middle and high school zones.

He agreed with the plaintiffs that the setting of attendance boundaries must follow state laws regarding rule making, something the district argued was not so. But he disagreed with the contention that the district failed to meet the legal requirements as the parents alleged.

The district well publicized its several meetings on the rezoning proposals, Alexander stated, and the parents knew enough about it to either participate or choose not to.

"The steps taken by the School Board during the rezoning process substantially comply with all procedural requirements," he wrote.

Alexander also ruled that the board's standards for drawing boundary maps was not vague or inadequate. And he stated that the resulting attendance zones were not arbitrary or capricious. …

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'Marzano lite' teacher evaluation model may be coming to Pinellas school district

Pinellas County school district teachers have long bemoaned Marzano, which is widely deemed a complicated and confusing teacher evaluation model. District leaders now say they may have found a remedy.

Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett told the Pinellas County School Board at a recent board workshop that the district is considering implementing a “focused Marzano model."

Instead of using about 60 indicators to sum up an educator's observation score (worth 57 percent -- the largest chunk -- of the total evaluation), the new model would streamline the observation process down to 23 indicators. 

Corbett described it as "supposed to be a simpler version where nothing gets lost," with the goal being to "reduce the number of elements so it’s easier to get a mental model of how they all connect."

"We’re not changing the instructional model," Corbett said. "We’re only changing the way to do the scoring on the observations." He described the switch as a "minor change and a quick learning curve." …

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Pasco School Board plans calendar workshop after Good Friday flap

The Pasco County School Board will discuss whether to hold classes on Good Friday in future years.

Times file photo

The Pasco County School Board will discuss whether to hold classes on Good Friday in future years.

Stung by criticism after holding classes on Good Friday, the Pasco County School Board wants to talk about whether to repeat the scenario in 2018.

The board already has approved its 2017-18 calendar with March 30 as a class day. Spring break is set for the week before.

It's not too late to make changes, though, and at least one board member has proposed doing so. Yet superintendent Kurt Browning so far has not been inclined to recommend an amendment, despite feeling the heat.

He said if a high absentee rate hindered the district's daily operations  — such as buses running late because of missing bus drivers — he might consider making Good Friday a day off. But absence, though higher than usual, did not substantially hurt the district, Browning observed.

At the same time, he said, he wasn't thrilled with the idea of observing just one religion's holiday in the school calendar, which he insisted should be created for academic reasons.

"There is no other religious holiday this district observes," Browning said, adding, "We're not the only district that was in school that day. Almost half the districts were in school that day." …

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Florida education news: Secrets, contracts, constitution and more

Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala are in the midst of final budget negotiations as the legislative session nears its end.

Associated Press

Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala are in the midst of final budget negotiations as the legislative session nears its end.

BUDGETS: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron cut deals on education and other issues in private, after pledging "unprecedented openness." • Many details remain to be seen, the News Service of Florida reports. More from Politico Florida. • Meanwhile, some education observers worry about the fate of Title I funding in a House spending proposal.

MORE ON OPENNESS: Three Senate committees spent a total of 90 minutes debating key House education proposals on charter schools and teacher bonuses, compared to nine hours of discussion in the House, the Miami Herald reports. 

CONTRACT TALKS: Pasco County school district and employee union leaders reach a tentative contract deal after months of dispute. • Broward County teachers also are in line for a retroactive raise, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: A committee of parents and home builders recommends a school impact fee increase on new Pasco County homes.

TESTING: Advocates of state testing reforms remain hopeful that some changes will emerge from differing train legislation moving through the Florida House and Senate, the St. Augustine Record reports. …

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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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