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DOE rejects most of Jefferson's demands as the district prepares to retake control of its schools

Jefferson's consolidated K-8 and high school
Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
Jefferson's consolidated K-8 and high school

The Department of Education’s response to the Jefferson County School District's transition plan could make legislation changing how the state grades schools even more critical.

DOE earlier this month agreed to give the district back control over its schools, after allowing a charter operator to run them for the past five years. But that deal came with several conditions—including giving Jefferson one school year to raise the district’s grade from an F to a C.

Jefferson wanted to regain autonomy over its spending authority and wanted additional time to raise its district grade. That additional time request is based on a proposed measure by Miami Republican Sen. Manny Diaz which would eventually do away with most state exams–replacing them with a digital system known as progress monitoring. If the bill passes, the state has to set what’s called a baseline year which would give schools a transition period where poor academic performance won’t be held against them.

State Education Commission Richard Corcoran would not commit to returning the school board’s financial oversight, even though the school district currently has a more than $1.2 million balance. He also said if the progress monitoring legislation does not pass, school grades will be calculated as usual during the next school year.

The state hired a charter school operator to run the district under an agreement that expired this year. And it gave that operator—Somerset Academy—tens of millions in additional funding to raise teacher salaries and make improvements. Jefferson County School Board also requested an additional $5 million from DOE to bridge the gap from what Somerset got to what they expect to receive under their budget. DOE’s letter made no reference to any additional funding.

The legislature may decide to kick in some extra money. Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairperson Doug Broxson is proposing an extra $5 million. North Florida Rep. Jason Shoaf said he was working to secure more funding, but it is too early to tell whether the House will support the Senate’s proposed number.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.