Pasco School Board considers sharing construction funds with charter schools

Published August 7 2018
Updated August 8 2018

LAND O’ LAKES — Despite facing a shortfall for its own construction and maintenance projects, the Pasco County School Board will consider sharing its capital funds tax revenue with some local charter schools.

The issue arose Tuesday as an offshoot of the board’s ongoing contract negotiations with Dayspring Academy, the county’s oldest charter school. Dayspring’s contract expired in June and was extended through Aug. 15. Founder John Legg, a former state senator, said his trustees did not want to further stretch out the deal without an understanding on capital money.

"We’ve got students that need a better facility," Legg told the School Board, saying Dayspring might seek mediation instead. "We just can’t wait another year."

State lawmakers recently required school districts to share their property tax income for buildings and repairs. Pasco was exempted, however, because of its high debt ratio for new schools and renovations.

The law has caveats, though, that could require Pasco to contribute a portion of its revenue in future years, if the Legislature does not fully fund charter school capital needs. For fiscal 2019, the Legislature covered the budget amount.

District administrators said they’d like to get in front of that scenario, if the board wishes, by crafting criteria by which local charter schools could qualify for a share of the tax money.

"We no longer have this single concept that we call education, and there are many more choices available to kids," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd told the board. "So the superintendent and I both have been grappling with this issue of, when you have really great home grown charter schools in your neighborhood, what do you do?"

Gadd asked the board to consider the notion of revenue sharing. Board attorney Dennis Alfonso provided a list of possible criteria, such as requiring the charter school to be open at least five years and to have received a B or better from the state for the most recent two years.

"If the board has a feeling that it is a worthwhile concept to pursue, this would be at least the bones of an infrastructure," Alfonso said.

The board chose not to discuss the subject, instead scheduling a workshop for Sept. 4.

The delay put the conversation after the Aug. 28 primary election, in which two incumbents face challenges. At least one of the hopefuls expressed outrage that the board would consider such an idea.

"I’m sorry, I just don’t believe in giving more money to charter schools," said Brian Staver, who is running against District 1 incumbent Allen Altman.

Altman has said he might back the concept for home-grown charters that intend to keep the money in Pasco County.

The board’s move to explore the idea satisfied Legg, who said he believed his trustees would agree to a 90-day contract extension so the sharing could get a fuller vetting. Ninety days barely helps, he said, because Dayspring can’t take that type of short-term agreement to the bank and secure funding for a project.

Now that the issue is on the calendar, he said, action might follow.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said if the board agrees at its workshop, he anticipated staff could have a full plan worked out within a few weeks.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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