On June 15, the school board voted to deny applications for Kids Community College Charter High School at 10550 Johanna Ave. in Riverview, Pivot Charter School at 3020 S. Falkenburg Road in Riverview, Southshore Charter Academy at 11667 Big Bend Road in Riverview, and Woodmont Charter Schools at 10402 N. 56th St. in Temple Terrace.
The school board also denied a petition from a South Florida charter school, Mater Academy, to build two new schools in eastern Hillsborough was also denied.
Board chairwoman Lynn Gray noted that the school district loses $250 million a year in state funding to charter schools, money the school district can’t afford to lose during a budget crisis.
However, the Board of Education said the school district cannot remedy its funding problems at the expense of giving parents a choice of education for their children.
Privately operated nonprofit Florida charter schools receive state funding based on the student population and are designed to provide parents an alternative to public schools by providing special education services not available at public schools, particularly in areas where public schools are considered low-performing.
Under the state legislation for public charter schools first adopted in 1996, charter schools operate under a performance contract, or charter, which frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools while holding them accountable for academic and financial results. Most charters are granted for five years.
About 15 percent of the county’s school-age population attends the 687 charter schools in Hillsborough County.
Since 1996, the number of charter schools in Florida has grown to over 687 in 2020-21. Charter school student enrollment now tops 341,900 students.
Dre Graham, executive director of independent educational and parental choice for the Florida Department of Education, said the Hillsborough school board’s decision to not allow existing charter schools to reopen would disrupt the educations of the 3,600 students that attend these schools.
“Our responsibility is to provide an equitable educational experience for students in order for them to become the best versions of themselves,” Graham said.
In its order to the school district, the Board of Education said the four charter schools targeted by the school district for closure serve a high percentage of minority students.
Woodmont Charter School is classified as a Title I school because 100 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged. Both are rated B schools by the state, Woodmont and Southshore charter schools are managed by Charter Schools USA, a Fort Lauderdale education management company.
The Department of Education also noted that the school board’s decision not to renew the charter school contracts went against the recommendation of school district staff.
After the school board’s decision not to renew the charter school contracts, Corcoran sent the board a letter ordering the board to provide valid reasons for denying the contracts or Hillsborough school board members, however, said they had valid legal reasons for denying the applications or risk losing state funding.
“None of these schools are graded below a C and, in fact, two schools are graded as B
schools,” Corcoran wrote. “As I’m sure you are aware, the students attending these schools come from economically disadvantaged homes, ranging from anywhere from 100 percent to 33 percent of the student population. The board’s action was contrary to the recommendations of district staff, who had thoroughly reviewed the schools’ applications and recommended renewal of the contracts for a five-year period. Most importantly, the board’s action appears to be contrary to law.”
In response, the school board said there have been problems providing services for gifted and learning disabled students at Southshore and Woodmont charter schools and there are concerns about the financial stability and academic performance of Pivot and Kids Community College High Schools, both rated C schools by the state.
Corcoran noted as well that the state statute requires school districts to give charter schools 90-day notice of its intention not to renew a charter school’s contract. He said the charter schools were notified of the board’s decision on June 29, the day before their contracts were set to expire.
“In this case, the board’s untimely action has the potential to negatively impact over 2,000
students, their parents and teachers in these schools,” Corcoran said. “In order to avoid this disruption and to meet the notice requirements of the law, it would appear that the district should have given notice of its intention to non-renew the charter contracts no later than April 1, 2021.”
School board chairwoman Lynn Gray responded, saying the June 15 vote by the school board constituted the initiation of the school district’s 90-day notice to the charter schools. She said the charter school contracts did not expire until Sept. 27.
She noted as well that the charter schools have the option to appeal the school board’s decision.
The issue has divided both the school board and the school community.
Parents told the school board that their children, who were failing at traditional public schools, are thriving in their charter school environment.
A staunch proponent of charter schools, school board member Melissa Snively voted against denying the charter school contracts, saying parents need a choice for their students.
On the other side, charter school opponents say charter schools siphon desperately needed funds from public schools and lack the financial oversight of public schools.
Angela Combs, director of Pivot Charter School, said the school board’s rejection of the school’s application “is especially disheartening given the diverse and vibrant population Pivot continues to serve with passion.”
The school board’s decision to reject the charter school applications comes after the state threatened to take over the county’s public schools due to a $100 million shortfall in the Hillsborough County School District’s budget.
The school district has since submitted a funding plan to the state to stave off a takeover.
At Tuesday’s meeting at the in the school board auditorium, 901 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, the school board will allow 45 minutes of public comment. When 10 or more speakers sign up for public comment, the board may reduce the time per speaker or the number of speakers allowed at the meeting.
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