Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Education

Complaint targets Hillsborough school operated by Charter Schools USA

TAMPA — As if Woodmont Charter School did not have enough problems, a former teacher has lodged a discrimination complaint and says the F-rated school uses teachers who are not properly certified.

Tammy Gilmore, a community activist who now lives in Atlanta, has written to Hillsborough County Schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia and charter schools director Jenna Hodgens, saying the school in Temple Terrace is out of compliance with numerous state regulations.

"Most of the low-income parents of the school are unaware of their rights and fail to understand the school grade, as well as newcomers of the school that are from low-income families as well," Gilmore wrote on March 20. "I can trust that you will follow up on my complaint and concerns."

A former teacher and parent at Woodmont, Gilmore said she was fired this year after she took time off due to an illness. In addition to contacting the district, she said she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination based on her race, gender, age and medical disability.

The district is looking into Gilmore's allegations, Hodgens said. If instructors are teaching subjects without certifications, Hodgens said she will find out if they have the required "out of field" approvals.

A spokeswoman for Charter Schools USA, the Fort Lauderdale company that runs Woodmont, said the company could not discuss Gilmore's allegations about her treatment because of employee privacy concerns.

"It is important, however, to be clear that, to our knowledge, all of our teachers meet the proper certification requirements by the district and the state," spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds said. "We continue to work with the district to clear up any concerns and are confident that all questions will be answered fully and satisfactorily."

The inquiry happens as Charter Schools USA finds itself under increased scrutiny in Hillsborough.

Recently the company was part of an unsuccessful effort to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base. The nonprofit Florida Charter Educational Foundation, which has the same address as the for-profit company, applied for the charter. Hillsborough officials raised questions about governance and the relationship between the two entities, and rejected the plan. The foundation said it will submit a new application.

The district, meanwhile, is asking questions about governance at Woodmont and two other schools managed by Charter Schools USA — Henderson Hammock in Citrus Park and Winthrop in Riverview.

Hodgens said she hopes to meet with Ken Haiko, chairman of the foundation. So far there have been phone calls and letters, but no meeting.

When discussing the MacDill proposal last year, Elia said Woodmont's F grade troubled her. Charter Schools USA officials said they fully expect the grade to improve, as happens whenever they open a new school in a struggling community.

Hillsborough is not alone in asking questions of the company. In Pasco, Haiko's foundation recently withdrew its application for a Charter Schools USA school, saying it had not found a good location. Before that happened, school officials said they were troubled that the governing board had no Pasco residents.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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