Districts criticize proposed charter school regulations
TALLAHASSEE -- Nine Florida school districts spoke up Wednesday to oppose new charter school rules proposed by the Department of Education.
As reported in Sunday's St. Petersburg Times, districts have been questioning whether schools run by Imagine, the nation's largest charter operator, are being run on a nonprofit basis as Florida law requires. The company's F-rated St. Petersburg school is losing enrollment and owes the company nearly $1 million. (Today the Times also published an editorial on the issue.)
Imagine has embraced the proposed rules, which would permit it to continue operating 17 Florida schools even if it fails to gain the federal nonprofit status it has sought since 2005. But in a conference call Wednesday, district officials said they have all sorts of problems with the new regulations.
"It allows virtually any entity to qualify for this, and doesn't do any sort of gatekeeping that we can tell," said Tom Gonzalez, attorney for the Hillsborough County School Board. "There's no way this can be policed."
Jim Robinson, the Pinellas County board's lawyer, said Florida law is already perfectly clear about how corporations and other organizations must organize themselves to receive nonprofit status.
"What are you trying to achieve by coming up with this definition?" he asked.
Michael D. Kooi, executive director of the Department of Education's office of parental choice, said the state would take the districts' objections into account in developing the final language, which must be approved by the Board of Education.
"I think these comments have been helpful, and we don't necessarily disagree with all of them," Kooi said.
In addition to Hillsborough and Pinellas, districts objecting to the proposed changes included Pasco, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Alachua, St. Lucie, Sarasota and Duval.
Tom Marshall, Times staff writer