Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Charter school operators continue to fund Susan Valdes' School Board campaign

TAMPA — Susan Valdes' bid for a fourth term on the Hillsborough County School Board is getting generous support from charter school operators.

At last count, Valdes had logged $12,000 in donations from charter management companies, founders of charter schools and affiliated businesses, some local but many from Broward and Dade counties.

That's more than a third of the $27,000 she has raised so far.

The donations include $1,000 from Timothy Kilpatrick, the founder of Kid's Community College in Riverview, and $1,000 from Formation Technologies, a company in which Kilpatrick has an ownership interest.

Kid's Community, in a case the Tampa Bay Times detailed this month, spent two years locked in battle with district officials who were concerned about employment conflicts of interest and pressure placed on parents to donate money.

School leaders insisted there were no illegal conflicts and any parent donations were strictly voluntary. Shortly after Jeff Eakins replaced MaryEllen Elia as superintendent in 2015, the two sides resolved their differences. Valdes was board chairwoman at the time. In January, with April Griffin as chairwoman, the board extended the schools' contracts and greenlighted a new Kid's Community high school as well.

The other donors include three entities affiliated with Michael Strader, described on the Charter School Associates Inc. website as "a lifelong educator and businessman with involvement in over 50 charter school start-ups."

Schools under the Charter School Associates umbrella include Bell Creek Academy and Bell Creek High School, both in Riverview.

Charter schools use tax dollars but are managed independently, often by for-profit corporations. They enjoy strong support from school choice advocates who reject the notion that government districts can meet all children's needs.

But, as charter schools generally employ non-union labor and require more from parents than government-run schools, they are accused increasingly of creating a two-tier system of public education that leaves the poorest children at an even greater disadvantage.

Of the $12,000 in donations, $9,000 was recorded in May.

In December, Valdes recorded another $3,000 from Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA, its majority owner Jonathan Hage, and Red Apple Development, an affiliated company that is involved in building the schools.

Charter Schools USA operates three schools in Hillsborough County and hopes to have 20 in the Tampa Bay area by 2020.

Valdes faces one campaign challenger as the June 24 qualifying deadline approaches: Bill Person, a retired teacher, principal and school district administrator. Person has raised only $5,800, including $4,250 of his own money that he loaned the campaign.

Person has the endorsement of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. But a greater number of teachers and school district employees — including Jenna Hodgens, the district's general director of charter schools — are donating to Valdes.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

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