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Yet another charter school is slated to open in Riverview

By Marlene Sokol
Waterset Charter School opened this year in Apollo Beach with about 800 students. [Photo courtesy of Waterset Charter]

TAMPA — The forward march of the charter school movement will continue this afternoon with a contract coming before the Hillsborough County School Board for another privately managed school in Riverview.

Creekside Charter Academy will be the sixth publicly funded Hillsborough school to be managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company based in Fort Lauderdale.

Charter Schools USA’s growth is rivaled by Miami-based Academica, which got approval on Nov. 14 to manage two new sports-themed SLAM schools that are also in the Riverview area. The first local SLAM opened this school year in Citrus Park.

And Kids’ Community College is a growing presence in Riverview as well.

Originally slated for the Plant City area, Creekside will open near Bullfrog Creek and East Bay High School.

"This school will be a smaller version of our other schools," said Rod Jurado, a Temple Terrace consultant who chairs the local governing board.

With so many charter schools already in that area, Jurado said, the school district asked for a scaled-down model. It will be one story instead of two, serving as many as 745 students. Other Charter Schools USA schools -- including the very popular Winthrop -- typically go over 1,000 in enrollment. The Plant City location did not work out, he said, because it was hard to find a suitable piece of land at the right price.

Hillsborough’s charter enrollment grew by 18 percent between last school year and this one, leading to criticism by the teachers union and other advocates of traditional public schools. Some of that criticism has been directed at School Board member Susan Valdes, whose re-election campaign in 2016 got a boost from more than $12,000 in donations from charter school operators and affiliated business.

At the end of the last board meeting, Valdes and Superintendent Jeff Eakins remarked that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the charter issue. People don’t realize that state law supports charters, Valdes said. And Eakins pointed out that, although the board approves virtually every charter application that comes before it, many are withdrawn before they reach that point at the suggestion of his charter school office.

To make that point, Eakins commissioned a report that the board has on its meeting agenda, which includes five 2017 charter school projects that didn’t make the final cut .

The five organizations can re-submit their applications in February.