Gov. Rick Scott awarded a check for $1,277,312 to 20 schools in the county for improved or continued student achievement on Tuesday at Stephen Foster Elementary School.
The award is a part of the Florida School Recognition Program. The program awards schools that have an A grade, have increased a grade or are marked as improving. The criteria is determined by the Florida Department of Education.
Scott said that Stephen Foster will receive a $46,000 cut of the check for maintaining an A status.
“You should feel very good about yourselves,” Scott said.
Scott announced in February that a total of $124 million would be distributed this year to schools across the state.
Each school will decide how the funds will be used, according to the press release from the Governor’s office. The award can cover staff bonuses, finance classroom equipment and provide money for extra staff to help students.
Students and faculty attended the presentation along with Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Owen Roberts and Mayor Ed Braddy. About 40 students stood behind Scott as he discussed the importance of investing in education.
Roberts said he is focused on improving education and helping students pursue their career interests. He set a five-year goal to achieve a 100 percent on-time graduation rate.
“We are taking Alachua County to the next level,” Roberts said.
Taylor Anderson produced this update.
Twenty-one local leaders signed the Alachua County Education Compact on Monday, which hopes to create better opportunities for students and schools.
“The Alachua County Education Compact signals our community’s commitment to outcomes now and over the long term that will measurably benefit our kids,” said Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Giuliani.
The compact focuses on early childhood education, parent education, higher education, workforce development and career preparedness. It aims to form a centralized community effort to prepare students for college by helping them establish business connections and develop healthy lifestyles.
Coordinating the efforts of business, government, community and education leaders to create opportunities for students graduating from high school and entering the work force has been in discussion since 2013.
“Schools are the lifeblood in the community and until all Alachua County students and school children have access to school readiness and career opportunities, we all have work to do,” said University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs.
A stewardship committee of signers will identify the compact’s strategies and accountability measures. Ian Fletcher, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of workforce development, estimates that these will be established no later than October.
Children cried and hugged their parents outside of the Kirby-Smith boardroom Tuesday night.
This came after the Alachua County School Board voted unanimously on a rezoning plan that will consolidate Waldo Community School with Shell Elementary School.
The plan will not only dissolve the Waldo school zone and expand Shell’s, but also require the busing of approximately 200 Waldo students to Shell Elementary in Hawthorne next year.
At the meeting in the Kirby-Smith Boardroom many Waldo residents spoke out against the measure. Whole families attended, most wearing white T-shirts with S.O.S. written on them for “Save Our School.”
Some attendees spoke about financial issues being the primary factor for the school closure. The board members disagreed.
“This is not all about finances, it’s about teaching our kids,” Paulson said.
The Florida Association District School Superintendents reviewed the district’s finances and recommended consolidating small and under-enrolled schools, according to the agenda summary.
By consolidating the schools the county expects to save $475,000, said Jackie Johnson, spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools.
Superintendent Owen Roberts said he didn’t take the decision lightly and kept the larger picture in mind.
“This problem was not created over night,” Roberts said. “I’m going to do what’s right for all the children.”
John Dukes’s III father was the past superintendent. He spoke in favor of the consolidation and reminded Waldo residents that this wasn’t the first time the county has closed a school.
“Waldo closed because of numbers. It wasn’t sustainable,” Dukes said. “I believe (Roberts) made the best decision that was available to him.”
April Griffin sympathized, saying she had been through this situation before. The board member lost both her middle school and her high school as a result of rezoning.
“For the people who say we don’t care – we care,” Griffin said.
Board member Gunnar Paulson proposed an amendment that would have given Waldo residents more time to prepare for the school’s closure. He proposed to give the school another year and for the board to reconsider the vote for closure.
The amendment failed unanimously.
Louie Davis, mayor of Waldo, and most of his large family showed up at the meeting wearing S.O.S. shirts. Davis wanted to see Paulson’s amendment pass to allow Waldo more time to improve and get better. But he said he came already feeling defeated.
“They had already made up their mind and written out their statements. There was little we could have done to change it,” Davis said.
Laura Dedenbach, Waldo city planner, criticized the board for not upholding the interlocal agreement, which requires the district to give more notice before any potential closure plans are made.
“Over the last two months Waldo, its parents, children, residents and business owners have tried mightily to implore you (the board) to slow the process down,” Dedenbach said.
Immediately after the measure was passed 5-0 most of the audience stood and left as the board continued with the agenda.
Camara Casson, a sophomore at Eastside High School who went to Waldo and whose grandmother is a teacher there, was disheartened by the board’s decision.
“It’s a crying shame,” Casson said. “I know that there was more that could have been done for the school.”
MIAMI (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott’s new hospital commission consists of Republican donors and business leaders who will likely help him go after some of the state’s hospitals as the standoff over Medicaid expansion intensifies.
The panel, which will meet for the first time Wednesday, is beginning its work as the governor has become increasingly antagonistic toward hospitals that receive taxpayer funds in the face of a $1 billion hole in his budget.
Scott wants the federal government to extend the hospital funds, known as the low-income pool, which helps hospitals that care for Medicaid and uninsured patients. But the Obama administration and the hospitals want the Republican governor to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians, arguing it’s more efficient to use the money to give people insurance than to pay hospitals for caring for the uninsured retroactively.
The standoff between Scott and the Obama administration has also caused a mess in the state Legislature. Scott and Republican House leaders remain adamantly opposed to taking any money tied to so-called “Obamacare,” including Medicaid expansion. The federal government would foot the bill for the first few years and then pay 90 percent after that – a far more generous deal than the 60-40 split in the current Medicaid program.
Scott says Medicaid expansion would cost the state $5 billion over 10 years. But even if the Obama administration agrees to extend the hospitals funds, it would still cost the state $9 billion in matching funds over 10 years, yet not a single person would have gained health insurance.
The governor is suing the Obama administration over Medicaid expansion, but with the federal government showing no signs of backing down, Scott has turned his attention to hospitals, creating a panel to examine their finances which does not include any health care executives.
The staunchly conservative governor, a former CEO of a for-profit hospital chain, wants the hospitals to share profits with each other and has asked his panel to examine hospital profits, including salaries, bonuses and lobbying expenses.
It’s unclear how much impact the panel will have as the Legislature reconvenes for a special session June 1 and must approve a new budget by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown. The head of the commission is a real estate developer and heavy donor to Scott’s political campaign and the Republican Party. It’s also the second time Scott has convened a hospital panel since taking office – the first commission didn’t accomplish much.
“I think (Scott’s) looking for the report to say that we somehow or other need more medical care. He’s an advocate of competition and de-regulation,” said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association.
While consumer choice might work in food and other industries, excessive competition in health care raises prices and jeopardizes the quality of care because the infrastructure is so costly. If you don’t have a sufficient volume of patients, then the unit price goes up. You don’t want a trauma team that’s idle five days a week, said Quick, who testified before Scott’s first panel.
“Part of what (the governor) was looking to see last time was whether these tax supported institutions were somehow mismanaged, inefficient, or abusing their public government ownership status … but (the first commission) couldn’t find anything.”
Critics have accused the governor of punishing hospitals who have spoken out on the issue. He sent a letter last week asking UF Health Jacksonville why it was more reliant on the low-income pool funds than other hospitals and encouraged them to consider partnering with more profitable medical centers in the area.
CEO Russ Armistead, whose hospitals stand to lose $95 million, warned the Legislature he’d have to close in a few months without Medicaid expansion and the loss of low-income pool funds.
Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown told Scott that the hospital, which is in her district, would not close under her watch.
“The letter is an attempt to distract from the fact that he has not only failed to provide critical healthcare to millions of Floridians, but opposes members of his own party in the Senate who have developed a common sense plan to address the needs of these vulnerable citizens.”
Hospital officials say they need the hospital funds and expanded Medicaid to survive and urged the governor to adopt a Senate plan that would eventually privatize Medicaid just like the state’s current program for 3 million Medicaid recipients.
“You have suggested that a new tax on hospital operating surpluses might be a way to sustain the existing LIP program. Such an arrangement is not a solution to the challenge we face,” according to a statement from the Florida Hospital association signed by nearly two dozen hospital heads.
“As more Floridians are covered, this approach allows our state to reduce its dependence over time, on a supplemental funding pool.”
Laura Barrero produced this update.
Florida is transitioning to a new voter registration process.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday mandating a statewide online voter registration system to be in place by 2017.
The bill, SB 228, establishes an online system created by the Division of Elections for the Department of State. Citizens can input their voter information applications electronically into a secure database. The option of paper registration is still available.
“We are really pleased to see that the governor has gone ahead and signed this bill,” said Pam Carpenter, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. “I think it is going to be a real step forward for the citizens of Alachua County and the state of Florida. It’s another vehicle for the citizens to use to make registering a simpler process.”
Carpenter explained that the information would be verified by the citizen’s last four digits of their social security number or through a record comparison with the Division of Motor Vehicles.
“This system is going to be better because the people who are filling out the information will be filling out their own information so there will be fewer errors,” Carpenter said.
“It also eliminates human error when we are trying to decipher handwriting so it should help us actually be more accurate.”
Gov. Scott signed the bill into law after it was approved by a vote of 109-9 in the Florida House 37-3 in the state Senate.
Kenneth Detzner, Florida Department of State Secretary, has voiced repeated opposition to an online voter registration application.
He said it would interfere with already ongoing efforts to revamp the state’s voter rolls and registration system.
Detzner must report to the Legislature by Jan. 1 on progress made toward implementing the system which must be in place by October 2017.
Detzner issued a statement stating he respects Gov. Scott’s and the Legislature’s decision. He said the Department of State will put forward all of its effort to ensure it is implemented safely and properly.
Twenty-one states have already implemented online voter registration systems. Five other states, including Florida, are taking steps to do so.