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Five Pasco County charter school applications in doubt

LAND O'LAKES — State representatives Will Weatherford and Richard Corcoran both supported legislation last spring making it easier for charter schools to open in Florida.

Not easy enough, it appears.

The Pasco County school district staff is recommending denial of a charter proposal that Weatherford and Corcoran's wife, Anne, submitted this summer amid a flood of applicants statewide seeking to take advantage of the new law.

Among the flaws in the Classical Preparatory School application, the staff wrote, "The budget failed to reflect sufficient funds for computer hardware necessary for computer-based testing and annual allocations for teacher performance pay in accordance with Senate Bill 736." Both lawmakers supported the controversial bill relating to teacher evaluations, contracts and pay.

The staff also is advising the School Board to turn down four other charter applications, which were filed by management companies outside of Pasco County. Those are Somerset Academy Elementary, Somerset Academy Middle, Florida Virtual Academy at Pasco and Abacus Math, Science and Technology Academy.

Anne Corcoran, who led the effort to create the Classical Preparatory School, said her group was "very careful in preparing the application to meet all the statutory requirements. . . . We tried to go above and beyond on those."

She said she reviewed several past applications, as well as the appeals that groups made to the State Board of Education, in an effort to identify and avoid potential pitfalls. She did not question the district's intentions in suggesting that the application missed several statutory requirements involving finances, curriculum and assessment.

"I believe that the school district is doing the best they can in asking the questions they need to ask," Corcoran said.

Weatherford expressed surprise that the application faced denial.

"When we had our meeting (with staff), I thought it went exceptionally well. They didn't seem to have a lot of questions," he said.

He expected to have answers to all the district's concerns when the board convenes on Tuesday.

"I think we wrote (the application) perfectly clearly," he added.

Board members stood by their staff when it comes to charter school analysis.

"Our district does support choice," Chairwoman Joanne Hurley told the Times. "However, each application has to be judged on its own merits. It wasn't a case where they were all being denied without cause. There was cause for every one of them."

She noted that the charter school application process, as spelled out by state law, is very complicated, whether done by lawmakers or any other entity. "They still have to respond to all of the questions," she said.

Board member Steve Luikart said if Weatherford and Corcoran missed some of the statutory requirements, that would be ironic.

"Statute is statute," he added. "We don't make those rules. They do. They would be hard-pressed to say we were too stringent."

Corcoran said she and others supported bringing classical education to Pasco County because they saw the model elsewhere and were impressed with the results. They liked the focus on such things as logic and rhetoric, and wanted to replicate the method for their own children.

She currently home-schools her five children using classical education.

"I'm hoping to be a part of bringing a great education opportunity to Pasco County," she said. "I really think it would be a great choice."

If the board denies the charter, the group will consider whether to appeal to the state, she and Weatherford said.

This year, Pasco received 11 charter school applications, the most ever in one year. So far, it has authorized one to begin contract negotiations, and rejected two. One has withdrawn.

Luikart said he supports local efforts to improve education. If they are rejected, he said, he hopes they will try again — a sentiment expressed by his colleagues a couple of weeks ago when they reluctantly turned down two local proposals because of application defects.

"I see the good that it can do," he said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Five Pasco County charter school applications in doubt 11/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 8:41pm]
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