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Leon Superintendent Hanna Talks Teacher Bonus, School Safety Money Changes

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna speaking with Bond Elementary school students during lunch.
Leon County Schools twitter

Florida lawmakers changed the way the state awards bonuses to high performing teachers and the way school district's receive money for safety and hardening upgrades. It's part of a new budget the legisalture recently approved that's set to roll out for the upcoming fiscal year.

Lawmakers dropped a requirement that teachers be rated effective and highly and have high test scores on exams like the SAT and ACT to qualify for it's "Best and Brightest" Bonus program. Critics said the test score language left out older teachers.  Now Leon School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is saying the program is worse-off following the change.

"We’re going to have a number of schools that are “A” schools that are highly effective and will not receive a penny," he told school board members during a recent meeting. " And we’ll have other teachers…that may be [in] a C or D school…those teachers will receive a nice bonus. It’s a trainwreck.”

There are now three ways teachers are eligible for the bonuses. Newly-hired teachers deemed “content experts” could quality.  Those rated effective or highly effective the year before and teach at a school that showed academic progress are aslo eligible. The last path is for teachers and others rated effective and highly effective to be selected by their principal. This last group gets any money leftover.  

Governor Ron DeSantis pushed for changes in the program amid an outcry over which teachers were and weren't getting the bonus payments. Many argued that money should have gone into teacher base pay.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also tewaked the formula for awarding school safety and hardening money to districts. That money allows them to make infrastructure upgrades and hire safety personnel. Previously, a third of the allocation was based on an area's population and two-thirds on its crime rate. Now, that's flipped.

"So we’ll receive an additional $230,000 for safe schools,' Hanna said. "We operate in the red, $500,000  or more, so this will help.”

Leon County Schools has gotten more money in the past because of it's higher-than-normal crime rate for areas of similar size. The state money helps offset the cost of security monitoring in public schools. State lawmakers are also including teachers among school personnel who are eligible to carry guns. The program remains voluntary. Hanna has said the school district will not participate in the so-called guardian program but will allow it for charter schools.

If district's reject charter requests, they have to foot 100% of the safety bill for those schools. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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