TAMPA — Responding to concerned parents who learned last week that the Hillsborough County school district is challenging the legality of three charter schools, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia assured them Thursday that the schools will not close.
"We are committed to keeping the schools open for the remainder of the school year," Elia wrote in a letter to parents. "Under no circumstances will we disrupt the education of students."
The situation affects more than 2,000 students at Woodmont, Henderson Hammock and Winthrop, three schools operated by the for-profit Charter Schools USA.
The letter does not say how Elia will keep the schools open if they lose their charters. But district spokesman Stephen Hegarty described two scenarios. The district could take over the operations after their charters are revoked. Or the terminations might not take effect until after the school year is over.
For several months the district has been trying to get clarification on what role local nonprofit boards have at the schools, and how much power is in the hands of a board affiliated with Charter Schools USA.
"When our school district enters into a contract with a charter school, it is very important that we know who is running the school." Elia wrote. "When charter schools are operated by local people of good standing who care about the children in the community, it provides an important connection for students and parents."
If the local nonprofits show they are actually running the schools, Elia wrote, she will not terminate the contracts. If not, she will. A letter to that effect, dated July 29, gives the boards two weeks to say if they would like a hearing.