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Substitute teacher wages up for increase

Citrus County’s substitute teachers may see a pay raise as soon as Wednesday if all goes well at the next Citrus County School Board meeting.

The board will meet at 4 p.m. March 8 at the Citrus County School District administrative office, 1007 W. Main St. in Inverness. A public hearing will follow at 5 p.m.

After a discussion at February’s special meeting and workshop, the district is asking the board’s approval to increase the daily pay rate for substitute teachers.

If approved, pay will increase to the following rates for short term substitutes:

Short term substitutesDaily rate
Non-degreed or associate's$90
Bachelor's or higher$100
State certified$110

Daily pay rates would also increase for long term substitutes who have taught continuously for 10 or more days in the same position:

Long term substitutesNon-certifiedCertified
Bachelor's$131.73$136.73
Master's$141.98$146.94
Specialist$147.04$152.04
Doctorate$152.14$157.14

Long-term non-degreed substitute teachers would see their daily rates increase to $105 per day.

According to the district, the projected cost for pay increases is approximately $180,000 per year budgeted from the general fund. For the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, funds remain in the substitute budget to move forward with the increase effective immediately, March 9.

School board officials will also and vote on the approval of an access agreement with Positive Behavior Supports, Corp. (PBS), which grants access for community agencies to deliver services to students.

PBS staff will therefore be able to provide therapy services to students on campus with the permission of parents and principals.

The board will also review and vote on the approval of the district English Language Learners (ELL) plan, which is updated and submitted every three years.

The plan outlines the procedures Citrus County follows to ensure compliance with English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) legislation.

Among other items, the board will also vote to approve:

Summary of school capacity report from 2021.

Controlled open enrollment plan, 2022-23.

Advertisement for a public hearing on April 12 to adopt attendance boundaries for the 2022-23 school year.

Math instructional materials for implementation during the 2022-23 school year.

For more information or to view complete agenda items and documents, visit tinyurl.com/t6phzraj. To watch the meeting, visit youtube.com/user/Citrus Schools.


Local
Nonprofit Spotlight: Boys & Girls Club

Editor’s note: Every community depends on the resources and support that nonprofit agencies provide people, whether physical, material or emotional.

The Chronicle’s ongoing series, Nonprofit Spotlight, profiles the nonprofit agencies in Citrus County that exist to help make life better for us all.

To have your nonprofit organization considered for a spotlight, here’s the link to an online form you can fill out:

https://www.chronicle online.com/site/forms/nonprofit_spotlight

When did the Boys & Girls Club of Citrus County start?

The Boys & Girls Club of Citrus County began in 1992 when local Crystal River residents saw a need for a youth program for youth after school, according to Chief Executive Officer Travis Anderson.

“Kids were noticed walking down the streets and many times getting into mischief because there wasn’t a productive activity or venue for them,” Anderson said, noting the Boys & Girls Club of Citrus County is celebrating 30 years of impact locally, with clubs in Homosassa, Beverly Hills and Inverness. Officials hope to add a fourth location in Crystal River soon to expand its outreach and impact in the community.

How does BGC make a difference?

The goal of BGC is to inspire young people to reach their full potential as caring and responsible adults by providing safe before and after school programs for youth in Citrus County to keep kids entertained while still learning valuable skills, Anderson said. BGC offers several activities including homework help, personal enrichment or mentoring, fitness and even a healthy snack. BGC currently serve youths between ages 6-18 from most schools in the area with activities for all.

In 2021, BGC served 35,452 FDA approved snacks to their members while 76 percent of them received free or reduced lunch at school. According to 91 percent of members, the organization helped them solve problems in a positive way, with 74 percent having increased a letter grade in Math, Science or Language Arts.

BGC creates this kind of lasting impact for the community while being completely free of charge to all members in the after school, holiday camps and summer camp.

This year, the club is pushing to expand due to waiting lists at most of its club’s locations since it is only able to serve what its facilities can hold.

How has the pandemic affected them?

In March 2020, the BGC had to shut down along with the school system. It wasn’t too long afterward Anderson explained that they were able to reopen on June 1, 2020, and they have been seen an increase in their numbers ever since.

Last October, the BGC hosted its first big fundraiser in two years, the 19th annual Steak & Steak Dinner. There was such a large turnout from the community the local BGC affiliate broke its record for largest fundraiser, making up for the lost time of the past two years.

It is fundraisers, along with grants and community giving, that keeps the organization operational.

“The biggest way the community can support our organization is financially. We want to serve more youth, but are only limited by our resources,” Anderson said.

More information

To make a contribution, visit bgccitrus.org/donate to make a one time or monthly donation, or text BGCCITRUS to number 41444. You can also mail a check to 2021 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL 34448.

For information about the Boys & Girls Club, email Anderson at tanderson@bgc citrus.org, visit bgccitrus.org or call 352-621-9225.


Local
Lawmakers chipping away at ballot initiative process

TALLAHASSEE — With a week to go in the 2022 legislative session, Florida lawmakers are considering a series of measures to propel Republican leaders’ years-long battle to make it harder for groups to change the state Constitution.

Floridians have relied on the ballot-initiative process in recent years to legalize medical marijuana, increase the minimum wage and limit the expansion of gambling in the state.

But for more than a decade, Republican lawmakers consistently have erected hurdles to the process in an effort to block measures from going before voters and amending the Florida Constitution.

Bills passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature have increased the number of signatures required for initiatives to be placed on the ballot and banned sponsors from paying petition gatherers by the signature – a move that experts say has dramatically driven up the cost of amendment drives.

Another election law shrank the length of time signatures are valid from four years to two years, meaning they can only be used for one election cycle. Critics say that law also has made the cost of petition drives skyrocket.

Proposals up for consideration this year include a campaign-finance bill that, in part, would place a $3,000 limit on contributions from out-of-state donors to political committees trying to collect enough petition signatures to move forward with citizens’ initiatives. The Senate approved the measure (HB 921) Friday night but made some changes that will send it back to the House.

A separate proposal tucked into a sweeping Senate elections package deals with Florida Supreme Court reviews of proposed constitutional amendments, a process that takes place after sponsors of measures submit 25 percent of the signatures required to make it on the ballot. Court reviews are needed to ensure that the proposals’ wording meets legal standards to go before voters.

The Senate bill (SB 524) would require the attorney general to withdraw requests for court reviews if proposals don’t submit enough overall signatures to qualify for the ballot before a Feb. 1 deadline. The attorney general could request that the ballot language be reviewed if initiatives receive enough signatures for future elections.

Initiative experts maintain that the proposed changes would impose another burden on groups seeking to place proposed amendments before voters. Currently, sponsors often pause fundraising efforts while awaiting Supreme Court decisions about proposals’ constitutionality. The court’s approval can help draw donors and volunteers.

Glenn Burhans, an attorney who has worked on several ballot initiatives, called the Senate plan problematic.

Burhans

“This has been probably a 15-, 20-year push on killing the citizens’ initiatives, and this latest measure is just the next step,” he told The News Service of Florida in a phone interview Friday. “All of these so-called reforms, which are not reforms at all, are designed to prevent billionaires or well-funded special interest groups from amending the Constitution, but the legislation has the opposite effect, making the initiative process so expensive that only big-money interests can participate.”

Abdelilah Skhir, voting rights policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said his organization is opposing the proposed change.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Skhir told the News Service.

The citizens’ initiative process, which Skhir said Floridians “really do enjoy,” often has been employed on issues the Legislature has refused to pass.

“Floridians from all walks of life have been able to use their constitutional right to direct democracy in Florida to improve the state for the better. Unfortunately, the Legislature disagrees with a lot of the things that have been passed,” Skhir the News Service Friday.

Lawmakers have often blasted backers of proposed amendments as out-of-state, deep-pocketed “special interests” or wealthy individuals who can afford to bankroll petition drives, which can cost upwards of $20 million to place on the ballot.

But Skhir blamed lawmakers for driving up costs.

“Because it’s so expensive, and when groups go and get donors to help them out, then the Legislature uses that as an impetus to continue making it costlier and more time intensive and more resource intensive. So it’s like an endless feedback loop,” he said.

The effort to change the Supreme Court review process comes as the court weighs whether to offer an opinion on a proposed constitutional amendment that could open the door to casinos in North Florida.

Florida Voters in Charge, the committee wsponsoring the proposal, failed to submit nearly 900,000 signatures by Feb. 1 to make it on the November ballot but submitted the requisite number of signatures to trigger the court’s review.

The court on Feb. 8 asked for briefs about whether a review of the initiative is moot because not enough signatures were validated to qualify for the ballot.

In a brief filed Feb. 18, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office said the court “does not lose jurisdiction simply because the petition will not appear on the ballot in the next election.”

But the Florida Senate argued that the court should take no action on the proposal.

“Contrary to the claims of the sponsors, there are not separate phases to the review. It is all part of the process to determine whether an initiative should be placed on the ballot. The argument that signatures expire for ballot placement, but maintain their validity for review is not a natural reading of the relevant portions of the Constitution and statutes governing the initiative process,” Senate general counsel Jeremiah Hawkes wrote in a Feb. 18 brief.

The court is also considering the same question about an initiative that would legalize sports betting in Florida. That initiative reached the signature threshold for review but fell far short of the signatures needed for the 2022 ballot.

The Senate on Friday passed the elections package in a 24-14 vote along almost straight party lines. Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg was the only Republican who joined Democrats in opposing the measure.

Floor debate, however, focused on part of the bill that would create a state “Office of Election Crime and Security” – a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis – that would have the power to investigate election wrongdoing.

The bill would allow complaints to be made anonymously, which drew strenuous pushback.

Cruz

“We should rename this bill, and then you can vote accordingly, and it should be ‘voter intimidation and voter suppression,’ because that’s really what we’re doing here. We’re not protecting anything,” Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, argued.

A similar measure is awaiting a House vote.

Another proposal floated by the House this year would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot allowing voters to decide whether to curtail subject matter for citizen initiatives. Under the proposal, initiatives would be restricted to matters related to “procedural subjects,” the “structure of government,” or the “structure of the Florida Constitution.” The measure has not made it to the floor for a full vote.


Local
Board to discuss Randy Oliver's separation agreement

The dissension involving County Administrator Randy Oliver’s performance evaluation gets a public airing Tuesday when commissioners discuss what role they should play in the process.

Oliver

Commissioners will also discuss a separation agreement between Oliver and the county.

Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. asked the item be placed on the agenda because he believes there is behind-the-scenes maneuvering going on by certain commissioners to get rid of Oliver.

It’s so bad, Kitchen said, that Oliver has threatened to leave this month and not stay until November to ensure a smooth transition.

Commissioner Holly Davis blamed Oliver for purposely suppressing a somewhat negative employee morale survey and that ignited a heated exchange at the last board meeting.

Kitchen said Davis is using that survey to further her ends to remove Oliver.

“Randy’s fed up with it, I’m fed up with it and we’re going to get it all out in public,” Kitchen told the Chronicle.

Davis said there is no underlying plot to get Oliver to leave early and she’s got the county’s best interests at heart.

“I have never been anti-Randy,” she told the Chronicle. “I see his strengths and I see his weaknesses.”

The county commission meeting is at 1 p.m. March 8 at the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 N. Apopka Ave., Inverness.

Kitchen scheduled the Oliver item for a time-certain of 1:40 p.m.

To see the complete agenda, visit https://bit.ly/3sAhqYs

Affordable Housing workshop

Prior to the afternoon meeting, commissioners will hold a workshop on affordable housing and accessory dwelling units.

The workshop is at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers.

Commissioners at their recent goal-setting retreat said the county’s lack of affordable or attainable housing is a top priority. Especially with the surge in home prices, there are fewer housing opportunities for lower- or moderate-income residents, they said.

For more, visit https://bit.ly/35pFZ1E.


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