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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Recess bill keeps moving through Florida Senate

The Florida Senate takes up SB 78 on second reading.

The Florida Channel

The Florida Senate takes up SB 78 on second reading.

The bill Florida's recess moms call "the good one" moved quickly through second reading, where debate on contentious issues often occurs, on the state Senate floor Thursday.

Sponsor Sen. Anitere Flores briefly described the SB 78, which faced no amendments and no questions. Without discussion, the chamber moved the bill to third and final reading next week.

It hasn't gone without note that the problems are not arising in the Senate, which never heard the proposal a year ago as John Legg, the Education chairman at the time, refused to take it up in committee. Neither has it gone unnoticed that the House, which passed the same bill a year ago with only two votes against, is this year the side holding up passage.

Despite having a majority of members as co-sponsors, HB 67 underwent dramatic changes in its final committee stop, essentially removing the requirement for daily recess that proponents wanted. Part of the concern: House Education chairman Rep. Michael Bileca -- one of last year's two "no" votes -- still does not back a legislative mandate for school play time. …

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Pasco County School Board seeks input on attendance, discipline rules

In preparing for the 2017-18 academic year, the Pasco County school district is putting forth its recommended revisions to the student code of conduct, with the biggest changes coming in attendance and discipline rules.

The proposals include a third attempt at refining when students may participate in extras after unexcused or unexplained absences, with specific attention to athletes, who will have to be present the majority of a school day to take part in games or practices that day.

They also call for a dress code change, banning leggings, yoga pants and tights if not covered by a shirt or skirt no more than 4 inches above the knee. And they propose redefining the activities that could lead to expulsion to include continuous disruptive behavior (defined as 14 or more referrals).

The School Board will take public input on the code of conduct at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday during the first of two public hearings. Read the entire proposal for more details.

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Florida education news: After-school programs, property taxes, bonuses and more

AFTER SCHOOL: Tampa Bay area parents and educators see benefit in the after-school programs for low-income children that the Trump administration seeks to cut.

FUNDING: The Florida Senate and House battle over local property tax rates in creating an education budget for 2018. More from the Miami Herald, News Service of Florida, Naples Daily News. • The budget proposals spare money for school district support of military families, Florida Today reports.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The Florida House floats a proposal to overhaul the state's accountability program, including the creation of a new system of charter schools. More from the Associated Press.

PLAY TIME: House Education chairman Rep. Michael Bileca does not support mandating daily recess in Florida's elementary schools.

TEACHER BONUSES: A bill to expand the Best and Brightest award to include more teachers and, for the first time, principals heads to the House floor.

VOUCHERS: The Florida House scales back its plans to expand school choice programs, the News Service of Florida reports.

NIMBY: A Miami-Dade neighborhood opposes a proposed large charter school in their community, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Florida House floats overhaul of state school accountability system

When the Florida House Education Committee meets Thursday, it will take up a proposal that could dramatically change the face of the state's public school system, opening it to more charter schools.

PCB EDC 17-03 aims to ramp up the intervention system for traditional schools that struggle under the state accountability and testing program. It would expand early warning requirements on student performance into elementary grades, and overhaul the responses for schools that cannot overcome the obstacles.

School districts would be directed to declare educational emergencies for schools with grades below C, allowing them to renegotiate contract terms to eliminate programs seen as standing in the way of academic improvement.

For schools facing required turnaround plans, the choice of a district-managed option -- the most popular one currently used -- would be deleted. Districts would have to choose among reassigning students to other schools, closing the campuses and reopening them as charters, or hiring an outside operator. …

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Two Pasco County schools could face new start times -- one earlier, one later

Times file photo

Students at two Pasco County schools could find themselves resetting their alarm clocks by more than an hour next fall under a proposal headed to the School Board on Tuesday.

Rushe Middle School would begin classes at 7:25 a.m. rather than the current 8:40 a.m. Anclote High School would start at 8:45 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m.

If approved, the changes would place each school on the same operating schedule as the others that share their campus, Sunlake High and Paul R. Smith Middle, respectively. The middle and high school students would ride the same buses, a similar arrangement as already takes place on several other joint campuses including River Ridge and Hudson middle-high schools.

The new Cypress Creek Middle-High School also will operate with one set of buses and the same bell times (7:25 a.m.).

The proposed moves arose for two different reasons, assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn said.

The district transportation department asked to open Rushe earlier in the day in conjunction with the scheduled debut of a new bus garage in Odessa. With the move of some buses from other garages, Kuhn said, "We needed another school with an earlier start time" to make the routes run smoothly. …

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Florida House, Senate education budgets differ by $538m, with split over taxes

Sen. David Simmons discusses tax rates Wednesday during review of his proposed 2018 education budget.

The Florida Channel

Sen. David Simmons discusses tax rates Wednesday during review of his proposed 2018 education budget.

Florida's education budget is becoming the focus of a confrontation over local property taxes and what constitutes a tax increase.

The state House has taken a strong position that if property owners pay more in taxes, that's a hike, and it shouldn't happen. They cite the state's Truth in Millage rules, which require governments to alert property owners if the proposed tax rates would result in higher payments.

The Senate, by contrast, has taken a different stance.

"This is not a tax increase," Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons said Wednesday. "It is simply leaving things as they are."

That's why the House proposed prek-12 education budget looks much different than the Senate's version, which Simmons' committee advanced to the full Appropriations Committee on Wednesday with no member comment.

Overall, the House has proposed a $20.424 billion bottom line, compared to the Senate recommendation of $20.963 billion. The House would increase per-student spending by 0.27 percent, to $7,223.71, while the Senate calls for a 2.91 percent rise, to $7,414.26. …

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Florida education news: Recess, open meetings, prom dresses and more

PLAY TIME: A year after its near unanimous approval of a bill mandating daily recess in elementary schools, the Florida House waters down this year's similar bill to no longer require daily recess.

IN THE BUDGET: The Florida House and Senate prepare for a showdown over the future of the Best and Brightest award. • The Florida House and Senate disagree over required local effort on property taxes for public schools, the News Service of Florida reports. • The House would put $200 million into charter schools that target children in persistently low-performing schools, Florida Politics reports.

RISING CONCERNS: Opponents to legislation on computer coding and textbook challenges get louder as the bills gain traction in the Florida Legislature.

OPEN MEETINGS: Hernando County residents raise questions about the School Board's unadvertised meetings inside a gated community.

START TIMES: The Hillsborough County School Board delays debate on proposed changes to school start times.

SCHOOL ZONES: Lawyers file their formal arguments in the rezoning challenge over west Pasco County middle and high schools. …

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USF students shell out $70,000 to bring Oscar-winner Viola Davis to campus

Viola Davis

Times files

Viola Davis

TAMPA -- Six minutes was all it took for University of South Florida staffers to realize they were going to need a bigger building.

They had announced that Academy Award-winner Viola Davis would deliver a free lecture on campus on April 4, during its annual USF Week. As soon as a link for tickets went live, students snapped them up.

Behind the scenes, USF officials conferred. The university has hosted big speakers before, but this demand blew past their expectations.

Each year, students on the University Lecture Series board decide how they want to use student funds to bring speakers to campus, hitting the sweet spot of entertaining and educational.

Viola Davis was the dream speaker on students’ lists this year, even before she won an Oscar for her role in Fences and delivered a rousing acceptance speech.

“The students truly wanted her,” said Monica L. Miranda, who works with the student committee as director of the Center for Student Involvement. “They didn’t want her because she was an Academy Award winner. That was a bonus to them.”

Booking the star of The Help, Doubt and ABC's How to Get Away with Murder cost $70,000, pre-Oscar. …

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Lawyers make final arguments in west Pasco school rezoning case

Parents and school district officials attend the first of four advisory committee meetings to discuss west Pasco middle and high school attendance zones in fall 2016.

Times file photo

Parents and school district officials attend the first of four advisory committee meetings to discuss west Pasco middle and high school attendance zones in fall 2016.

Many words were spoken during two days of testimony as west Pasco County parents challenged the School Board's rezoning of their neighborhood middle and high schools in late February.

But lawyers for the sides left much of their legal argument for another day, deciding instead to focus on testimony while debating whether the board followed Florida's rulemaking laws in setting new attendance boundaries.

On Tuesday, their legal briefs  -- 27 pages each -- were formally filed with the Division of Administrative Hearings. After all the time spent by parents declaring the harm caused to their families and explaining how they were not well informed of the proceedings, and the district countering the claims, the positions boiled down to a few key points.

In the plaintiffs' recommended final order, lawyer Robert Stines reiterated his key point that the district had engaged in rulemaking, as evidenced in the language of some of its own documents and depositions, and did not follow all the necessary steps outlined in law, from notification to explanation of the rule. …

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New principal appointed to Trinity Elementary in Pasco County

Former Connerton Elementary School principal Aimee Boltze has been named to take over Trinity Elementary on April 5.

Boltze, currently an assistant principal at Watergrass Elementary, replaces Cortney Gantt, who transferred to Seven Springs Middle School in early March. The appointment fills the final principal vacancy in Pasco County after a round robin of position swaps sparked by an unexpected death and a promotion.

Boltze was credited with improving Connerton's climate and performance after the contentious leadership of Anna Falcone, who resigned under pressure in 2013. In the midst of personal problems, Boltze agreed to take an assistant principal job in summer 2016, with the understanding she might return to heading a school once her issues were resolved.

Her promotion goes to the School Board for consideration on April 4.

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Hillsborough School Board delays discussion on school start times

Times file photo

Parents and employees of the Hillsborough County public schools might have to wait another month for a decision about next year's school hours.

District leaders had hoped to have a "bell schedule," as the arrival and dismissal times are called, ready for a board discussion and vote on Tuesday, April 4. But they now want to take more time to explore their options.

The board's next scheduled business meeting is May 2.

"We are still gathering input from our stakeholder group meetings, which include students, parents and teachers," said spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

One option, widely circulated on social media, would have traditional elementary schools start at 8:30 a.m. instead of the current start time of 8 o'clock. Middle school would start at 9:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. High schools, which now typically start at 7:33 a.m., would begin at 7:15 a.m. But that's just one scenario, district officials said.

The reason for the changes, which would take effect when school resumes on Aug. 10, are twofold.

First: The current system gets some buses to school chronically late. The district also is trying to economize by getting maximum efficiency out of its fleet of roughly 1,000 buses. …

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Concern mounts over textbook, coding bills as they gain steam in Florida Legislature

AP photo illustration

Two bills that hadn't moved in past sessions of the Florida Legislature gained momentum this week as key committees recommended their approval with little lawmaker dissent.

The advancement of measures on textbook challenges (HB 989 / SB 1210) and computer coding (HB 265 / SB 104) prompted critics to move into high gear in explaining their concerns with the language in each.

Complaints that the computer coding bills would allow high school students to replace foreign language credits with coding course appeared to be tamped down as House PreK-12 Quality chairman Rep. Jake Raburn assured speakers that the foreign language swap had been removed in a committee substitute.

That did little to assuage advocates for improved math and science instruction, such as Florida State physics professor Paul Cottle, who fired back on his blog that "Florida Legislators trying to boost high school computer science enrollment by sacrificing other important disciplines are missing the whole point." …

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Gradebook podcast: Getting a real look inside schools, not the 'dog and pony version'

In this 2012 photo, Candy Olson, then a Hillsborough County School Board member, takes part in a music class at Mitchell Elementary. Board members aren't always welcome for school visits in some Florida counties. A bill supported by the Florida Coalition of School Board Members aims to change that.

[SKIP O'ROURKE | Times]

In this 2012 photo, Candy Olson, then a Hillsborough County School Board member, takes part in a music class at Mitchell Elementary. Board members aren't always welcome for school visits in some Florida counties. A bill supported by the Florida Coalition of School Board Members aims to change that.

Reporter Jeff Solochek speaks with Shawn Frost, president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, about a bill that would allow board members to visit schools. Right now, in some instances, elected school board members are barred from such visits, which Frost says can prevent them from seeing what's really going on in schools.

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Florida Senate PreK-12 Appopriations chair proposes increases in prekindergarten, per-student funding

Florida's prekindergarten through high school public education system could see increases in funding under the budget proposal unveiled Tuesday in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Chairman Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the spending plan would bring the state's voluntary prekindergarten program to its highest level of funding since its creation 15 years ago. It also would bump up per-student K-12 funding 2.91 percent, a higher percentage than in three of the past five years, Simmons said.

He and staff built the budget without change to the required local effort on taxes, which would mean local property owners could see the amount they pay in taxes rise if their values went up. Leaders in the Florida House have said they would not support any tax increases, but also have indicated they wanted to put more money into prekindergarten through high school funding.

The House has recommended cuts in higher education funding, which might be where some of the added money comes from. The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee is to present its budget proposal later in the day.

Some of the highlights of Simmons' recommendations include: …

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Pasco County school impact fee advisory committee seeks input

Care about whether the Pasco County Commission increases school impact fees? The county's 10-person impact fee advisory committee will take public comment at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The committee, comprised of five commission appointees and five School Board appointees, will hold its first meeting Wednesday to begin considering the board's request for a near doubling of the charge made on new home construction.

The board made its recommendation after noting it cannot afford to build schools quickly enough to meet the needs of the county's fast-growing population.

School district officials have expressed their hope for quick action by the advisory committee, with a goal of getting the commission to act on the fee proposal by fall. …

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