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Decision coming for Hillsborough charter school applicants

TAMPA — Seven charter school applicants may get the green light today to continue toward a fall opening in Hillsborough County if the School Board agrees.

But four others face rejection if the board follows a staff committee's advice at its 3 p.m. meeting.

Some of those applicants say they're not happy.

"It was going to be a model school for the whole country," said Zack Osbrach, who had proposed opening Einstein Montessori Academy for dyslexic children with support from University of South Florida professors. "They didn't want us, for whatever reason."

In fact, the district cited 14 different reasons why his application didn't pass muster under Florida's charter school law. Another applicant, the Sarasota-based Florida Charter Foundation, had 13 problems with its bid to open two single-gender Franklin Academy schools. And Spectrum Academy for students with autism or related disorders fell 26 reasons short.

"The academic education plan is not clear and coherent," the district said in the latter case. "The daily schedule submitted in the application provides only 45 minutes of academic instruction."

A spokesman from Spectrum could not be reached for comment, and the Florida Charter Foundation applicants said they hadn't yet received the report.

"Obviously we would not have submitted the application if we didn't feel it had met the requirements and been successful in other districts," spokesman Tom Rogers said. "Our goal is to open a great, unique and innovative program."

But rejection should come as no surprise after a lengthy review process, district charter supervisor Jenna Hodgens said.

Applicants are invited to a spring orientation to learn about state laws and the challenges of running charter schools, which use public money but operate independently of local districts. Staff point out potential problems and help applicants to improve their plans, she said.

Thirty charters operate in Hillsborough right now, but others have failed or been shut down by the district due to financial or academic problems. And Hodgens said the district has no intention of allowing faulty applications to slip through.

"We are charter school friendly, but it has to be quality," she added. "I can tell you that all the ones that were denied last year came back and they're being approved this year."

For the Einstein Academy, the panel cited problems with its academic plan, personnel policies and budget, including no plans to pay for food services for the 256-student school.

But none of that sat well with Osbrach. He said districts should be clamoring for programs to teach students with language disabilities like dyslexia, pointing to successful schools he has opened using the same model in Gainesville and Cocoa.

"Hillsborough and many other counties have no other curriculum for dyslexic kids," he added. "They're not hurting me a bit by turning me down. They're hurting these kids."

Hodgens said the district liked many of those ideas, but found serious gaps in the application that could lead to problems for a new school. And since Osbrach didn't come to the training session, he didn't get as much of a chance as other applicants to work out the kinks.

"I hope he will work with our district," Hodgens said. "I really think he can put something together that can help kids."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

>>Fast facts

School decisions

Schools recommended for approval:

• Alexander Academy of Lutz

• Community Charter Middle School of Excellence

• Hillsborough Charter School West

• Tampa Charter High School

• Pivot Charter School

• Florida High School for Accelerated Learning

• New Springs Elementary School

Schools recommended for denial:

• Franklin Academy A

• Franklin Academy B

• Einstein Montessori School

• Spectrum Education Academy

Decision coming for Hillsborough charter school applicants 12/06/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 6, 2010 11:51pm]
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