ST. PETERSBURG — The new Learning Village charter school group headed up by Goliath Davis wants to lease the building that until 2009 housed Southside Fundamental Middle School.
Lawyer Guy Burns, also a leader in the charter effort, submitted a draft proposal to the Pinellas school district outlining the idea. But at an April 19 workshop board members had questions about the potential arrangement, which could entail having several charter schools to benefit black students, all on the Southside site.
Linda Lerner and Peggy O'Shea wondered about the precedent that would be set for future charter interests who may seek to use School Board property. Janet Clark worried that it might be a problem to approve a lease agreement before the board had a chance to weigh the merits of whatever charters might be proposed for the site.
"It's putting the cart before the horse," said Clark, who also said she liked the concept. "Then we're going to be the bad guys if the charter doesn't look good."
Davis said the new group wanted to simultaneously look for a building and get potential charter operators on the path to startup.
The board would have to approve any lease/purchase agreement. Members directed district staff members to detail maintenance costs for the Southside building and determine the fair market value of the property. No time line was set for any of that.
Declining enrollment at some county schools, an old building and budget cuts led school officials to close Southside in 2009. Seven other Pinellas schools also were closed.
At Tuesday's workshop, some board members offered praise for the new charter concept.
"It's about the kids," Lerner said. "We have a large achievement gap, which is all around the country, but the statistics came out. There's more of a gap in Pinellas. This would be a wonderful opportunity for us to learn what can be done in a small setting."
"Please, let's not be so concerned that by helping some group of students we're going to lose some money," said board member Lew Williams.
There also was praise for the team behind the effort, which besides Davis and Burns includes former state Rep. Bill Heller, former teachers union president and now Step Up for Students president Doug Tuthill, and former Pinellas administrator Linda Benware.
"I have a great deal of confidence in this leadership group," said board member Terry Krassner.
"The confidence level I had when I was approached was very high," said superintendent Julie Janssen.
Ultimately, School Board members instructed board attorney Jim Robinson to work with the Learning Village group and come up with a proposed lease/purchase option.