Tampa charter school withdraws
Board chair says charters that are ‘just after a dollar’ aren’t welcome in county
A Tampa-based charter school organization seeking to come into St. Johns County withdrew its application Tuesday morning, mirroring the decision made Monday by another charter school organization.
And that left the St. Johns County School Board with little to do at their special meeting Tuesday evening where they were to vote on the three new charter schools.
The Tampa-based Kid’s Community College withdrew on Tuesday morning. Late Monday afternoon, the Miami-based Somerset Academy sent an email withdrawing their two charter school requests. Somerset said they couldn’t find a location for their schools. Kid’s Community College did not give a reason.
Both for-profit organizations knew the district staff had recommended their school applications be turned down. The district said the schools did not meet the state standards.
Board chair Beverly Slough said the district wasn’t opposed to charters.
“Good charters that meet needs are welcome here,” Slough said, adding that not welcome are those who are “just after a dollar.”
Superintendent Joseph Joyner echoed that saying the district supported charters “where they are appropriate and where they serve the children.” The county has six charter schools, he said.
From the time the new charter applications were filed, questions were raised about why the organizations wanted to come to one of the best districts in the state. For the last four years St. Johns has ranked top in the state based on student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Test.
The charters did not answer that question, but did point out state law now gives parents choice in educating their children. A district need not be failing for charter school groups to go in. Neither organization has said where they planned to put their schools.
The three schools could have meant some 2,000 students going to charter schools rather than traditional public schools. While the charter schools are now part of the public schools by law, school districts have little control over the charter schools once they are approved.
The new schools could have meant a $12.8 million dollar loss for public schools, district officials said. Like public schools, charter schools get state funding for each student who comes to them. Officials predicted the loss would affect public school programs and offerings.
Several board members and Joyner agreed the charter school issue needs to be readdressed at the state level.
Slough said after the withdrawal announcement that she was “delighted” the district would no longer be “consumed” with charters and could move on with the school year.
Joyner said reviewing and investigating the applications “has consumed hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars that quite frankly could be better spent.”
Public school supporters were savoring the victory.
“I just couldn’t have heard better news,” said St. Johns Education Association President Dawn Chapman. “It’s a huge win for the children and the teachers in our district that these for-profit charter schools have withdrawn. It’s unfair profiteers want to come in and hinder the excellence of our district by putting profit before the well-being of our district.”
Education activist Colleen Wood, who heads up 50th No More, said the charter fight had seen a “unique collaboration between the union, parents and the district” as they sought what “was best for the kids.”
Wood’s group had asked public school supporters to show up in red shirts for Tuesday’s meeting. Once the charters withdrew, Wood and her group spent the afternoon sending out blast alerts on Facebook, Twitter and email telling people they didn’t need to come. A few showed up anyway and Wood said that interest needs to continue.
Board members said parents and residents had flooded them with calls, letters and e-mails protesting the charter schools.
Wood said people were “not willing to accept something that was not good enough for their children. … Our schools are not for sale.”
She warned the issue is unlikely to go away.
“We have to be aware we’re an attractive district for for-profit charter schools. It could come back at any time. Parents and residents need to be continually involved with the schools,” Wood said.
Somerset, which has a management agreement with educational service provider Academica LLC, said in its letter that they intend to apply again during the 2013 application cycle.