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Four applicants propose new charter schools in Pasco

LAND O'LAKES — After receiving a time-crushing 11 applications last August, Pasco County charter schools supervisor Nancy Scowcroft expected another deluge this year.

Instead, she got barely a trickle.

Four groups — including three that were denied in the last round — met the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline to apply to open a new charter school for the 2013-14 academic year.

"I'm surprised that we didn't have some of the management companies come back," Scowcroft said. "I expected they would."

The upshot, though, is that the district's small application review team has a more manageable load this fall. Scowcroft hopes to have recommendations to the School Board on the proposals by its second October meeting.

The board didn't reach all its charter school decisions in 2011 until late November.

Perhaps most notable locally, Anne Corcoran, the wife of state Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, has reapplied to open a Classical Preparatory Academy charter school. Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has dropped off the proposed board because of his governing commitments, but other well-known figures have replaced him.

Now listed to serve on an advisory board to the school, which would focus on traditional education including logic, grammar and rhetoric, are former Pasco Sheriff Bob White and Patricia Levesque, a key adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush. Corcoran said she has known Levesque for years and had been asking for her advice anyway, so she wanted to make the relationship more formal.

Scowcroft said she worked closely with Corcoran to fix some of the deficiencies that tanked the group's application a year ago. It is proposed to open in Pasco's south-central corridor as a K-8 school with up to 254 students, expanding within five years to K-12 with 518 students.

Corcoran said the district's assistance was valuable in improving the application. She said she never considered not reapplying.

"I applied again because I think it's something really positive for Pasco County," she said.

A group of parents and educators has resubmitted its application to open Quest Academy, which would focus its curriculum on community service, healthy living and environmental responsibility. The students also would run a schoolwide produce garden, with 30 minutes scheduled per day to work there.

The school is looking at possibly opening in Lutz at the former State Road 54 home of Imagine charter school, which moved last year. But other locations are still possible, applicant Elizabeth Durham said.

"We've gone through the entire application and revamped the entire thing," Durham said. "We felt like last year we had a good application. This year it surpassed our expectations."

K-12 Florida LLC, a subsidiary of a national firm, has again applied to open Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco County, an online-only school that would have no local building. Last year's application included several problems, as did the group's effort to launch schools in other counties.

The Seminole County School Board is fighting the group's efforts in court, and officials in Pasco and elsewhere are watching for the outcome, which could affect what happens here. Locally, the group is represented by parent-activist Wendy Howard, who has led efforts to allow children to take state-funded virtual courses without having attended a public school first.

Also on the board are Michael Benjamin, who works with Step Up For Students, the Tampa organization that runs the state corporate tax credit scholarship program, and Paul Hull, a former policy chief for the late state Sen. Jim King.

The group has scaled back its enrollment projections, which were roundly criticized last year as unrealistic.

The only new application this year comes from the Florida Autism Center of Excellence, which has a school in Hillsborough County and is looking to open one in Pasco. The school would serve children diagnosed with autism, starting with prekindergarten through fifth grade and expanding to 12th grade within five years.

Initially the Hillsborough district nearly shut down the center, but under new leadership it has improved. Now Hillsborough officials have told the Pasco district that the school is operating well.

Pasco County currently has five operating charter schools: Dayspring Academy, Countryside Montessori, Imagine, Academy at the Farm and Athenian Academy. The first four received A grades from the state this year, while Athenian earned a B.

Charter schools are public schools that receive tax dollars but are freed of some of the bureaucratic requirements placed on traditional schools, including class size rules. Charter students take the FCAT and their teachers must be certified.

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

. Fast facts

Charter schools, applications

These schools met the 2012 application deadline for charter school proposals:

• Classical Preparatory Academy

• Quest Academy

• Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco County

• Florida Autism Center of Excellence

The county currently has five charter schools:

• Dayspring Academy

• Countryside Montessori

• Imagine

• Academy at the Farm

• Athenian Academy

. Fast facts

Charter schools applications

These schools met 2012 application deadline for charter schools:

• Classical Preparatory Academy

• Quest Academy

• Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco County

• Florida Autism Center of Excellence

The county currently has five charter schools:

• Dayspring Academy

• Countryside Montessori

• Imagine

• Academy at the Farm

• Athenian Academy

Four applicants propose new charter schools in Pasco 08/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 9:00pm]
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