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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Charter schools, traveling man, lunch prices and more

Thousands of children attend Florida charter schools, which are growing in number and now stand to receive capital projects local tax revenue.

Times file photo

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. …

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Fix inequitable treatment between charter, traditional schools, Sen. Gainer says

Sen. George Gainer

Sen. George Gainer

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."

Gainer also has regrets. …

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Sarasota school leader named Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year

Dr. Rachel Shelley, center, is Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year.

Florida Department of Education

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.

Read more on the subject here.

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Senator Gary Farmer taking closer look at HB 7069 challenge

State Sen. Gary Farmer

Courtesy photo

State Sen. Gary Farmer

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.

Since then, some of his colleagues, including high ranking Republicans Jack Latvala and David Simmons, have hinted broadly at a challenge based on the notion that the bill included more than one subject, and was not open to amendment. Such concerns about "logrolling" arose in 2016, too, when then-Sen. John Legg objected to the inclusion of the Best and Brightest teacher bonus in a budget implementing bill.  …

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Florida education news: Counseling, contract talks, calculus and more

File photo

MUG SHOTS: One of two businessmen accused of swindling 15 charter schools throughout Florida turned himself into authorities Wednesday.

COUNSELING: Florida's universities are left on their own to improve their mental health services for students.

HIGHER ED LEADERSHIP: Pasco-Hernando State College president Tim Beard gets a lukewarm evaluation and an extra year to do better. • St. Petersburg College's newly selected president, the first African-American and first woman to hold the post, will be paid $30,000 less than her predecessor.

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.

#HB7069: At a Seminole County legislative delegation meeting, Sen. David Simmons pledges to continue fighting to improve the portions of HB 7069 aimed at helping the state's lowest performing schools, Florida Politics reports. 

IN THE SCHOOLS: Two Martin County schools get new principals, TC Palm reports. …

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Newpoint schools' vendor Steven Kunkemoeller arrested in Escambia County

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.

Escambia County Jail

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.

Kunkemoeller operated Red Ignition and School Warehouse, which sold marked-up goods to charter schools run by Newpoint Education Partners. Newpoint's founder, Marcus Nelson May, also has a warrant out for his arrest on similar charges.

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.

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Amid budget shortfall, new St. Petersburg College president to make less than predecessor

Dr. Tonjua Williams, St. Petersburg College's incoming president

EVE EDELHEIT | TIMES

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.” …

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Charter schools and where they get their students

Students eat lunch at Kids Community College in Riverview

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.

Included in the back-up materials, but not on the web, was this list of the charter schools' enrollment last year and where their students would go, based on their address, if the charters weren't there.

Some interesting patterns emerge. Looking at just groups of 100 or more:

* Henderson Hammock, a Charter Schools USA school in Citrus Park, has 133 students from the Bellamy Elementary district and 146 from Pierce Middle School.

* Hillsborough Academy of Math and Science has 108 students from Bay Crest Elementary and 108 from Lowry Elementary.

* Woodmont, also managed by Charter Schools USA, has 105 students from Robles Elementary.

* Eisenhower Middle School has lost 250 students fo Bell Creek Academy (130) and Literacy Leadership Tech Academy (120). …

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Despite criticisms, board votes to retain Pasco-Hernando State College president

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. …

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Lawsuit challenging Pasco County school rezoning survives dismissal motion

Some parents are fighting in court over a plan that rezoned the Longleaf subdivision into new school attendance zones.

Times file photo

Some parents are fighting in court over a plan that rezoned the Longleaf subdivision into new school attendance zones.

Lawyers for a group of west Pasco parents who are fighting the school district's attendance zone revisions won the right Tuesday to continue their latest case in county court.

Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd ruled against a school district motion to dismiss the complaint, which alleges some members of the superintendent's rezoning advisory committee privately discussed boundary-related matters that should have remained public.

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. …

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Contract talks resume for Pasco County school employees, with HB 7069 as backdrop

USEP president Don Peace

YouTube

USEP president Don Peace

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. …

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Florida education news: Construction funds, budget cuts, 'genetics' and more

The Pasco County Commission listens to public testimony Tuesday on whether to increase impact fees for new school construction.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

The Pasco County Commission listens to public testimony Tuesday on whether to increase impact fees for new school construction.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: The Pasco County Commission inches toward approval of a school impact fee increase, although the amount remains undecided. Pasco School Board officials, noting the decline in state support, begin talking about ways to generate even more money for needed projects. • Sarasota County School Board members spar over how to cope with a newly required transfer of capital project tax revenue to charter schools, the Herald-Tribune reports. • Duval County school district officials estimate their district will have to give $16 million to charter schools over five years, the Florida Times-Union reports. • The Palm Beach County school district looks into paying a consultant $26 million to manage its boom in school construction projects, the Palm Beach Post reports. The Palm Beach district has begun several projects this summer using new sales tax revenue, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • The St. Johns County school district collects more money than expected from its sales tax, but also sees rising construction costs offsetting the increase, the St. Augustine Record reports. • The Seminole County school district seeks an impact fee review as rising enrollment creates the need for more schools, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • The state approves a new school for Santa Rosa County, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Budget cuts could halt technology upgrades in Pasco County schools

Students use new technology in the Rushe Middle School media center.

Times file photo

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.

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Budget, testing collide in Pasco County schools

Times file photo

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning repeatedly has called upon the Florida Department of Education to return state testing to a paper-based system.

Using the paper-pencil exams, Browning said, would allow school district to more easily administer them in a shorter time frame. That's been a goal of superintendents statewide. It also would ensure students are assessed on their content knowledge rather than their computer skills, Browning argued.

But when it comes to his own district-level final exams, which have come under strong criticism in recent weeks, Browning is singing a different tune. Despite recommendations from at least one School Board member to offer both paper and computer options for the finals, Browning is calling for all computerized tests.

It's all about the money. District officials continue to seek budget cuts to meet an anticipated revenue shortfall of just over $2 million in the coming year's spending plan. …

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Florida education news: #HB7069, charter school fraud, test scores and more

Gov. Rick Scott speaks before signing HB 7069, which he says will "help all students."

The Florida Channel

Gov. Rick Scott speaks before signing HB 7069, which he says will "help all students."

#HB7069: Throughout the debate over HB 7069, proponents declared their intention to ensure that funding "follow the student" rather than the "system." Critics have been quick to point out the idea appears to violate the Florida Constitution. It looks like the issue could come up as the Constitution Revision Commission considers amendments. • One of the biggest backers of the concept — House Speaker Richard Corcoran — says districts including "over-spending" Hillsborough County have created the need for an overhaul. Districts are, unsurprisingly, pushing back. • While many people are looking at what the bill did, others observe one thing it didn't accomplish: Setting restrictions on private enrichment with capital outlay funds for charter schools. • Is a legal challenge coming? If not, there sure is plenty of talk, the Capitolist reports. More from the Tallahassee Democrat.

CHARGED: A Florida businessman whose Newpoint Education Partners operated 15 charter schools across the state is charged with racketeering. More from the Florida Times-Union, Pensacola News-Journal. …

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