Deadline looms in Pasco for Charter Schools USA
7 P.M. UPDATE: The district and the charter school company did not reach a contract agreement by the end of business Tuesday. A representative for the charter school has requested mediation, but board attorney Dennis Alfonso said the district is under no legal obligation to meet that request. Alfonso said he would recommend any action, if needed, at the board's next meeting. Otherwise, he advised, the charter application is closed with the statutory deadline for contract negotiations expired.
Charter Schools USA has a potentially insurmountable hurdle to overcome in less than a day if it hopes to open a new school in Pasco County.
Pasco School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso tells the Gradebook that the Broward-based management company, one of the state's largest charter school firms, applied to the district through a limited liability corporation called Bay Area Charter Foundation. But state law is clear that charter schools "shall organize as, or be operated by, a nonprofit organization."
"It is the district position, and my personal concern ... that statute does not contemplate that we contract with any entity other than a non-profit," Alfonso said.
He explained that the company, which the School Board was reluctant to deal with in the first place, contends that the LLC is in a sole partnership with a non-profit so the contract should be acceptable. But he didn't agree.
"Two minutes after we contract they can bring in another partner and it will undercut the whole point of the board contracting with the non-profit," Alfonso said.
"We've told them they've got until 5 p.m. [Tuesday] to come up with a contract that's satisfactory enough for the superintendent to recommend to the board for approval," he added.
The board set this deadline two weeks ago after the company did not respond to initial efforts to negotiate and the statutory window for contract talks passed. District officials have raised several other concerns about the Charter Schools USA proposal, involving such areas as curriculum and financial reporting. But this matter of the applicant's status could be the key.
The School Board meets at 6 p.m., at which time Alfonso and superintendent Heather Fiorentino expect to have a recommendation on the application.