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Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Jeffrey S. Solochek writes about schools and education for the Tampa Bay Times. Solochek has covered the school districts in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties since joining the Times in 2000. He also oversees The Gradebook education blog.

Phone: (813) 909-4614


Blog: The Gradebook

Twitter: @JeffSolochek

  1. Florida education news in review, week of June 18, 2017


    Some pretty big education policy questions emerged during the Florida legislative session, perhaps none bigger than whether funding should "follow the students" or pay for a public school system. With all the talk of per-student funding, the answer might seem pretty clear. But it's not. Rhetoric aside, the state constitution and case law create a scenario that likely will bring the issue before the Constitution Revision Commission for clarification....

    The Florida Constitution Review Commission might weigh in on whether state education funding follows students, or pays for a system of public schools.
  2. Gradebook podcast: Charter school fraud, budget woes and more


    School districts across Florida have been grappling with financial concerns they contend lawmakers did not improve with a new state education budget. Reporter Marlene Sokol joins reporter Jeff Solochek to discuss the problems as they're manifest in Hillsborough County, which has local woes beyond anything the state has done.


    Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin has been asking pointed questions about the district's budget.
  3. Florida School Boards Association selects new leadership


    Saying Florida's education issues require a fresh approach, Alachua County School Board member April Griffin has taken over as the new president of the Florida School Boards Association.

    "By the end of this year I am hoping that we will begin changing the conversation, looking forward, and finding solutions instead of excuses," Griffin said at the organization's recent summer conference in Tampa....

    Alachua County School Board member April Griffin speaks to the Florida School Boards Association summer conference.
  4. Florida education news: Charter schools, traveling man, lunch prices and more


    #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....

    Thousands of children attend Florida charter schools, which are growing in number and now stand to receive capital projects local tax revenue.
  5. Fix inequitable treatment between charter, traditional schools, Sen. Gainer says


    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:...

    Sen. George Gainer
  6. Sarasota school leader named 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....

    Dr. Rachel Shelley, center, is Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year.
  7. Senator Gary Farmer taking closer look at HB 7069 challenge


    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....

    State Sen. Gary Farmer
  8. Florida education news: Counseling, contract talks, calculus and more


    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....

  9. Lawsuit challenging Pasco County school rezoning survives dismissal motion


    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....

    Some parents are fighting in court over a plan that rezoned the Longleaf subdivision into new school attendance zones.
  10. Contract talks resume for Pasco County school employees, with HB 7069 as backdrop


    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....

    USEP president Don Peace
  11. Florida education news: Construction funds, budget cuts, 'genetics' and more


    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....

    The Pasco County Commission listens to public testimony Tuesday on whether to increase impact fees for new school construction.
  12. Pasco commission moves toward increase in impact fee for schools

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The price of a new Pasco County home is poised to rise, with the added revenue slated to go toward new school construction.

    County commissioners on Tuesday signaled general support for increasing the school impact fee, to help the School District meet space needs created by enrollment generated by added housing.

    "I foresee the impact fee will increase," Chairman Mike Moore said after the first of two public hearings on the School Board's request....

    Pasco School Board Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong asked about a sales tax for schools.
  13. Budget cuts could halt technology upgrades in Pasco County schools


    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....

    Students use new technology in the Rushe Middle School media center.
  14. Budget, testing collide in Pasco County schools


    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....

  15. Historic Moore-Mickens center set to reopen, serve children's needs


    Pasco County's first school for African-American students, which operated as an education center until it closed two years ago, is poised to reopen as a community education and social center again, serving the low-income Dade City community where it sits.

    The Moore-Mickens Education and Vocational Center — a nonprofit coalition of civic, community and faith-based leaders — is set to enter a 30-year agreement to lease the former school site, as is, on Martin Luther King Boulevard for $10 a year. The group aims to provide some of the programs that the school used to provide....

    The center will offer programs including a voluntary prekindergarten, GED and tutoring.