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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Companies fight for Hernando dropouts



BROOKSVILLE -- Maybe it's just a coincidence.

Or maybe the best defense against a charter school applicant you don't like is -- that's right -- offense.

Less than two weeks after the Hernando School Board rejected a bid by one company to open a charter school for high school dropouts, officials invited an online school to serve the exact same market.

Mavericks in Education of Fort Lauderdale has filed an appeal with the state over its charter denial. But on Tuesday the School Board enthusiastically endorsed a proposal by Penn Foster Career School to launch a pilot program for 30 recent dropouts beginning in January.

Both companies say they're mounting aggressive efforts to sign up Florida school disticts.

And both say they can perform the educational equivalent of alchemy, convincing students who have left the public schools to return.

Penn Foster is already working with 12,000 students in Florida, including those in Pinellas County schools, said CEO Stuart Udall. The company is developing contracts with a handful of other districts, including Palm Beach, Brevard, Miami-Dade and "hopefully Hillsborough," he added.

Newcomer Mavericks has inked deals to open its first five charter schools for dropouts in Pinellas, Miami-Dade and Osceola counties by next fall, with other agreements coming, said CEO Mark Thimmig.

He said he wasn't worried about Penn Foster's bid to corner the dropout market in Hernando.

"I believe what we're going to be offering kids is a caring and supportive environment with highly qualified teachers and educational professionals," Thimmig said. "We're not worried about competition."

Udall said Penn Foster offers a vastly more economical deal for districts, giving each student an all-you-can-eat menu of courses at its accredited online high school for $1,500 a year, "which I do guarantee is our lowest price nationally."

The average student gets around $3,800 in state funding, and charter schools like Mavericks capture around 90 percent of that money.

Superintendent Wayne Alexander had voiced support for the Mavericks bid, but he was even more enthused about the Penn Foster opportunity.

Either one helps capture students whom the public schools have failed, he said. But the Penn Foster deal could help the district snare a significant portion of the state funding that walked out the door when they left school.

"This actually makes you money," Alexander told the board.

For more details, read tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times or visit

Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:07am]


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