Pinellas in a charter school dry-spell; other Tampa Bay districts — not so much
In 2012, the Pinellas County school district's charter school office was so overwhelmed with the 19 charter school applications it received, a staff position was created to review all of them.
The office of four braced for what would come the following year. Districts are obligated to review applications within 60 days, and the statewide deadline to submit applications is Aug. 1 to be eligible to open the following school year. Pinellas received a dozen applications in 2013 and eight in 2014.
But since then, Pinellas has been in a charter school dry spell. The district's charter school office received just one application in 2015 that was quickly withdrawn. Rick Wolfe, the office's director, said two callers -- one from West Palm Beach and the other from Orlando -- reached him on the day of the deadline last week to inquire about submitting an application, but never followed through.
This is the second year Wolfe's office has no applications to review.
Is Pinellas' market for charter schools saturated? Are organizations afraid of setting up shop in a district where five schools faced termination in three months? Are the state's new rules requiring charter schools to disclose the names of the applicant, governing board members, service providers as well as detailed academic and financial histories of any shuttered charter schools they previously operated discouraging?
"The market's gotten flooded," Wolfe said. "It's tightening up, not letting in bad players."
"It bodes well for charter schools because it focuses on quality, not quantity," he added.
Across the bay, Hillsborough County's charter school is also seeing a decrease in applications. Their office received six applications by the Aug. 1 deadline this year, compared to 13 in 2015. Hillsborough's district has double the student population -- and charters -- than Pinellas. Pinellas has about 101,000 students and 20 charter schools to oversee in 2016, while Hillsborough has 212,000 students and 41 charters.
Charter school applications are relatively steady in Pasco. Their office received just one application on Aug. 1 to open a MYcroSchool. Another MYcroSchool, which helps students ages 16 to 21 obtain a high school diploma, operates in St. Petersburg.