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Find – M’ Friends hope train at CRHS

Find – M’ Friends hope train at CRHS

IMG_7584Visiting our schools in the summer you always see and learn neat things. Today I saw two. One was a set of shoes pull-overs with scrubbers on the bottom the staff use when wax-stripping floors. I spent many a summer stripping and waxing floors as a teen and wished we had these to walk those slippery floors.

IMG_7583The other was I visited with Linda Boles, president of Find – M’ Friends, one of her youth volunteers, one of our Citrus County K9 deputies and his bloodhounds partner, as they visited Crystal River High School using the campus to train and perform search exercises.

Ms. Boles shared about the numerus successful identification exercises they had done on the CRHS campus that morning.

I am so pleased of the work Find – M’ Friends and our Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies are doing with the bloodhounds program, and I am pleased they our campuses offer an environment to help train these important resources.


Get out the sunscreen… No doctor’s or parent’s note needed

20120322lnj1-suncreenGet out the sunscreenNo doctor’s or parent’s note needed

HB 7069 gives parents and students right to use sunscreen as needed

For a number of years I have pushed for more common sense laws with regard to over-the-counter products use in our schools.  Items like chapstick, cough drops, acetaminophen, and sunscreen should be items that students have easy access to have and use.  Some relief came this year in House Bill 7069 regarding sunscreen.

HB 7069 include the following improvement to Florida law, “Sun-protective measures in school. A student may possess and use a topical sunscreen product while on school property or at a school physician’s note or prescription if the product is regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration for over counter use to limit ultraviolet light-induced skin damage.

This means the beginning this school year the school board will no longer be required to have students bring in a physician’s note, or require a Parent Permission for Sunscreen Authorization Form.

I am so excited about this issue and I am grateful that State Representative Ralph Massullo who is an M.D. and specialize in Dermatology, very much understood the importance of this issue.

It is my hope that more common sense improvements to over-the-counter products will be written into law in the future to further give students and parents choices on their students’ medical needs.


HB 7069 signed into law

chronicle 07-02-2017HB 7069 signed into law

By Thomas Kennedy

Originally published in the Citrus County Chronicle, July 2, 2017

Mention this legislative session’s House Bill 7069 and strong emotions often come forward. Now that Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law HB 7069 it isn’t a question of what could happen, but now what will happen.

Like many public school education supporters, I have been concerned with the way HB 7069 was crafted in the waning hours of the 2017 Florida Legislative session. This bill lumped nearly all the legislative session’s individual educational bills into a single train bill and then combined that train bill into a budget conforming bill.

Several positive improvements to public education were sprinkled into HB 7069 in between some most concerning and controversial portions. This forced many legislators to approve the bill and unfortunately agree to many issues that they might not have, had these issues been individual bills.

Sen. Bill Montford said following the passage and signing of HB 7069, that the future of public education lies in the balance.

He went on to say, “Do the people of Florida support this bill? Do the people of Florida understand what’s in this bill?”

He continued, “If the people of Florida think it will damage the public school system, then what will the people do about it? This is a much bigger issue than just (HB) 7069.”

Let’s review the positive changes in HB 7069:

  • HB 7069 makes optional the controversial Value-Added Model (VAM). VAM is a convoluted NASA looking algorithm which ties teacher’s and administrator’s pay to students’ performance. The new law gives back control to the local school boards by allowing school boards to approve alternatives to VAM. There has not been any credible evidence that demonstrated that tying students’ grades to teachers’ pay had any positive impact to increasing student achievement and learning. I was pleased that at our most recent school board meeting, the school board unanimously agreed to begin the process of removing VAM in Citrus County.
  • The new law eliminates the Algebra II End of Course (EOC) state assessment. While many of us wanted the legislature to go further in reducing the required high stakes state assessments that students must pass for grade and course completion, and high school graduation — this was a start. Our hope is that next session more will be done to eliminate even more state mandated state assessment tests and provide alternatives to state mandated high stakes tests.
  • The new law permits that high school inter-local competitive sports will now count towards meeting the high school physical education requirement as marching band, dance and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JORTC) already had. This option will enable students to participate in additional electives and course options to better maximize their courses and academic tracks. A special thanks to Rep. Ralph Massullo for his strong effort and support in getting this into law.
  • Under the new law, school board members will now have unrestricted access to schools. While this was not an issue for Citrus county as our Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel always provided this access, this was not the case with superintendents throughout Florida. This access is important and vital to board members in making important decisions for our students and staff and one that I take great advantaged of to be a more informed board member.

There are also several items included in HB 7069 which are of great concern and it is my hope that they will be improved next session as some could have substantial negative impacts to our students:

  • Changes to Title 1 in HB 7069 threatens local control and will now be more restrictive than the federal law. Title 1 funds are used to improve curriculum, instructional activities, counseling, parental involvement, increase staff and program improvements. Title 1 funding assists schools in meeting the educational goals of low-income students.

It is my belief that Citrus County School District is best in tune with the specific and individual needs of our schools and should continue to oversee the use of these funds. HB 7069 now empowers individual schools independently instead of the school district in determining how Title 1 funding is used with virtually no oversight by any local authority who is the entity required by law to make and oversee these decisions. This means that district wide initiatives may now be in jeopardy.

The federal government requires and performs regular audits to ensure that Title 1 have been spent meeting all the rigorous funding requirements. Citrus County Schools has continually received the highest ratings following these audits. This state law removes the local control by locally elected bodies, but keeps in place the responsibility when these funds are spent improperly.

Further, HB 7069 for Citrus County reduces the funding to our elementary and middle schools by providing it to other schools who have other funding resources. In addition, Citrus County instructional leaders and educators believe and results have shown that early support of remediation needs at early grade levels greatly reduces the need in high school.

  • HB 7069 continues and expands the controversial teacher bonus program, Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, expanding it from $49 million to $220 million dollars annually and will now include principals, but not assistant principals.

This flawed program ties teachers’ individual SAT and ACT scores often taken when they were in high school with being good teachers today. This program has been promoted as necessary to attract, improve and maintain high quality teachers to Florida.

After two years, there is no evidence that the Legislature has shown that is has accomplished its goal. To fund this suspect program, the Legislature has had to cut other necessary educational funding needs.

  • HB 7069 now requires in law a guaranty of 20 minutes a day of recess at the elementary levels. Recess is a good thing and I am a strong supporter of “free play” recess. What the legislature didn’t do and should have, was to remove the current required Structured Physical Activity (SPA) time that caused some districts (not Citrus County) to lose free-play recess time. There are just so many instructional hours each school day, and now adding additional required recess time and not revoking SPA will now require that something else must get reduced or worse eliminated.

It is my hope that the state removes SPA next session. It should also be noted that in HB 7069 charter schools are exempt from the mandatory recess. If the Legislature truly believes the 20 minutes of recess is what is best for Florida public school students why was it not extended to Charter school students?

  • HB 7069 now requires that the Local Required Effort Capital Public School funds be shared with charter schools. These are capital dollars that over the past decade have already been reduced, while required state mandates have continued to increase, causing great challenges to local school districts.

Further, for the past number of years, the Legislature had funded Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) dollars to charter schools at approximately $300 per charter student going to charter schools versus approximately $30 per public school student going to public schools.

How is this equitable?

HB 7069 fell short of correcting some of the continual improvements we need in public education, and a common-sense approach to standards mastery and assessments. We greatly need a portfolio assessment option at the secondary level as we currently have at the third-grade level. I was most appreciative that Massullo sponsored a bill this session that would have offered multiple pathways to a high school diploma. One of those options would have allowed students to automatically substitute state exams with a portfolio, industrial certification or alternative test. This did not pass this session, but it did have much support across all party lines. It is my heartfelt hope Massullo will again continue this effort and, if so, I along with many in the state will be with him to support this necessary effort and need.

Moving forward, I echo Beverly Slough, St. Johns County School Board member and former Florida School Boards Association president’s reflection of HB 7069 when she said, “As good public servants we will do what we can to implement the law [HB 7069]. But we will also do what we can to get it improved for the future.” As elected educational leaders we must take these state laws, whether good or bad for students and schools and implement them in ways that are positive for our students and the community. We also must continue to strongly advocate for positive change and improvement.

We thank legislators on all sides of the aisle this past legislative session that worked to make positive improvements and tried to prohibit negative changes to our students’ public education. Some of these leaders include; Sen. David Simmons, Sen. Bill Montford, Sen. Jake Latvala, Sen. George Gainer and Sen. Gary Farmer. I want to also thank Sen. Wilton Simpson for his efforts on Citrus County’s behalf, and Massullo, who tirelessly tried running common sense education bills and worked behind the scenes to positively impact legislation for our students.

Lastly, I want to share what Panama City Republican, Florida Sen. George Gainer said following the signing of HB 7069, “(I am) very much a fan of the governor,” however, he warns that if state lawmakers don’t return next session to fix the inequitable treatment between charter and traditional schools, “we’re all in trouble.”

It is my greatest hope that our legislature stop playing political games with our students’ public education that will not only impact their lives but our state’s and community’s future.

FRS Petition system up 14 percent

CaptureFRS Petition system up 14 percent

Lawmakers increase again FRS contributions, Citrus Schools increased another $370K

It was recently reported that Florida’s Retirement System is up 14.24 percent for the fiscal year. (see full story:

I am pleased that FRS is healthy, but let us not forget that this was done on the backs of public education funding.

In 2011 the state of Florida changed in midstream retirement benefits for employees in FRS by then beginning having these employees contribute to the retirement plan. Common and expected in the private sector, where wages/salaries, pay scales and benefits are driven by profits and losses.  This is not the case for those that chose noble professions in the public servant sector. Teachers, law enforcement officers, first responders, state and county workers in order to service where willing accept these lesser pay scale positions knowing that some of the offset of the retirement benefits.  The public was told that FRS was in such bad financial shape that employees now had to contribute in order to keep FRS solvent.

Instead the state did not really add more to the coffers of FRS. They instead defunded areas like public education and then played a shell game with the funds and used the employee retirement contributes to supplant and fund back some of the losses.

Another better approach could have been to phase in a new contribution for new hires.  This would have permitted those new employees to weight the pros and cons of public service over the private sector.

Now again this year district FRS contributes have been increased to further pad FRS.  Citrus County’s FRS required contribution was increased by another $370,000.  This means less to our students and schools so that the state can claim they saved taxpayers money. It is a shell game and is in the end costing taxpayers more.

Was FRS ever in the poor shape some claimed and said was necessary to make this change?  Or was this further justification to reduce the value of those in these noble professions?

NO MORE VAM for teachers in Citrus County Schools

samp18ef1863c879eff0NO MORE VAM for teachers in Citrus County Schools

I was proud today, Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 during our School Board meeting to ask our board for support in removing VAM (Value added Model) from the teachers’ evaluation process in Citrus County.  VAM was put into law under SB736 in 2011 by the then Florida Legislature and tied teachers’ pay to students’ grades.  While we may not have desired everything in the controversial recent HB 7069 law that Gov. Scott signed. One part of HB 7069 was it made VAM optional.

I have opposed VAM and the use to students’ grade being tied to teachers’ salaries, bonuses and steps from the beginning.  I was pleased at today’s school board meeting to ask my fellow board members to support the immediate process to remove VAM from Citrus County School Board policy.  There was unanimous support of the entire board.

This will not be an overnight process as policy revisions never are, but the change has now begun.  Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel shared during the meeting that our Research and Accountability department would be developing and presenting at an upcoming meeting alternative replacements to VAM for teacher evaluations.

This I believe is a small, but good step in the correct direction.  Many more steps are still needed.

National Merit Finalists solves Rubik’s Cube in 15 seconds

National Merit Finalists solves Rubik’s Cube in 15 seconds

Today at our School Board meeting we recognized Citrus’s National Merit Finalists (top 1% in nation). One of these young men, Sasank Desaraju (Lecanto High School), has a unique talent that I asked him to share. He can solve a “mixed up” Rubik’s Cube in less then 15 seconds!