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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Gov. Scott approves three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday

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For the second straight year, Gov. Rick Scott has approved a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.

Scott signed the legislation (HB 7109), which included several other tax breaks, into law on Thursday.

The school shopping tax holiday is set for Aug. 4-6. It applies to clothing, school supplies, personal computers, and personal computer-related accessories. The tax exemptions do not apply to sales within a theme park or entertainment complex.

Until 2016, Florida's sales tax holiday for school shopping ran 10 days. Lawmakers scaled it back to three days, and temporarily exempted computers, amid tighter budgets last year. 

Scott said cutting taxes is good for Florida's businesses and families. "Every time we cut taxes, we are encouraging businesses of all sizes to create opportunities for families across the state and more money is put back in taxpayers' pockets."

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International Baccalaureate program to expand in central Pasco schools

Pine View Elementary School in Land O'Lakes has won approval to become a Primary Years International Baccalaureate school, extending the rigorous program down to the K-5 level in the central Pasco County feeder pattern leading to Land O'Lakes High.

The elementary will be an official candidate school in 2017-18.

The acceptance marks the full expansion of IB from elementary to middle to high school. Pine View Middle began its transformation to the Middle Years program in 2015, while the high school enrolled its first pre-IB students in 1999.

The idea has been to create a continuum of services for children who want to progress to the highest levels of IB. The program in the younger years does not require application as the high school model does. It is expected to be an attractor, though, while aiming to keep students in the school system.

It's similar to the effort to offer the Cambridge program in the San Antonio Elementary-Pasco Middle-Pasco High feeder zone. District officials have been working to make the schools more attractive to families, as charter school enrollment has grown. …

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Florida education news: Prekindergarten, charter schools, online education and more

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EARLY EDUCATION: Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program continues to get high marks for access but low ratings for quality and funding in the National Institute for Early Education Research's annual review.

#HB7069: The feedback to Gov. Rick Scott on the controversial HB 7069 is breaking even now that school choice supporters have begun a more aggressive push in support of the measure.  • Parents seeking continued growth of the Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs back the program, which was woven into the bill, the Associated Press reports.

BAD ACTS: A Hernando County middle school monitor and coach is arrested on accusations of sexually assaulting a student. • A Pinellas County middle school teacher is arrested on allegations he molested three students.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Somerset Academy prepares to officially take over the Jefferson County school district, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Half the district's teachers are let go in the move, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. • A financially struggling Lee County charter school's board votes to close down, and upset parents aim to raise money to keep the school going, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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School choice contributes to increasing segregation of Florida, southern U.S. schools, researchers say

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A new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA says that schools in Florida and the rest of the south are slipping back into segregation of black and Hispanic students, with school choice playing a role.

From the report: "Several generations of students were educated in the region's diverse schools, but much of the progress is eroding as the South undergoes another shift toward a triracial region where no one group comprises a majority of students. Instead of leadership to successfully prepare schools for this new demographic reality, many Southern states have passed laws making public schools less welcoming for students from immigrant families. States across the region are also establishing multiple means for students to leave public school districts, either through charter schools or expanding voucher programs for private schools."

The group's data points out that, in 2014, 34.6 percent of Florida's black students and 32.1 percent of Hispanic students attended schools with 90 percent or more minorities. The overall student population was 22.3 percent black and 30.9 percent Hispanic.

Florida also has one of the highest charter school expansion rates, the report notes. …

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Letter from 'many' St. Petersburg High faculty, staff to Pinellas School Board pushes for assistant principal to be next principal

Darlene Lebo, an assistant principal at St. Petersburg High, is supported by "many" school faculty and staff to be the school's next principal, according to a letter sent to the Pinellas County School Board.


Darlene Lebo, an assistant principal at St. Petersburg High, is supported by "many" school faculty and staff to be the school's next principal, according to a letter sent to the Pinellas County School Board.

A St. Petersburg High teacher sent a letter on the behalf of "many" school faculty and staff to the Pinellas County School Board and school district superintendent Mike Grego in support of appointing their assistant principal, Darlene Lebo, as principal.

The letter, which you can read here, was dated April 25, almost a month before Northeast High assistant principal Robert J. Gagnon had been selected for the coveted position pending School Board approval at a board meeting held Tuesday, but it was not sent to the school district until May 21. Grego pulled the recommendation Monday, citing "new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's experience in Lake County nearly 20 years ago. He promised to review the matter  "to gain a full understanding before proceeding with a personnel recommendation for this position."  …

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Florida prekindergarten access among nation's best, but funding among worst

Times file photo (2011)

When Florida began its voluntary prekindergarten program, the criticisms began that it aimed to serve many youngsters but with little quality.

It's been 15 years since voters put the system in place, and the reviews have yet to change.

In a report released Wednesday, the National Institute for Early Education Research found Florida second of 44 pre-k programs nationally when it comes to service, but 40th in terms of per-student funding, and meeting just three of 10 quality measures.

For 2015-16, the state served 76 percent of all eligible four-year-olds -- more than 169,000 in all -- with only the District of Columbia having a better rate.

But its per-student funding amount of $2,353 was less than half the national average of $4,976. By achieving three of the NIEER's quality measures, Florida outperformed just two states, and was far behind nearby Alabama (10 of 10), North Carolina (9) and Arkansas (7). …

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Florida education news: Achievement gap, testing, bilingual teachers and more

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ACHIEVEMENT GAP: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan to improve the education of black students in the district.

TESTING: Just 10 percent of Florida twelfth graders pass their retake of the state exit-level language arts test.

#HB7069: An ad calling for a veto of HB 7069 distorts lawmakers comments, the Miami Herald reports. • More leaders, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, take a position on the bill. More from Politico Florida. • Provisions within HB 7069 would allow the Bay County school district to move ahead with plans to build a new school it had put on hold, reports.

SPANISH SPOKEN HERE? A group of parents and students complain the Orange County school district does not have enough bilingual educators, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CONSTRUCTION COSTS: The Manatee County School Board seeks to raise impact fees on new homes, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP: The Leon County school district announces six new principals, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. …

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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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