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Hernando School Board rejects charter for high school dropouts

BROOKSVILLE — Application denied.

That was the decision Tuesday of the Hernando County School Board, which voted 5-0 to reject the application by a Fort Lauderdale company to open a charter school for high school dropouts and at-risk students.

The company and its local governing board promised an immediate appeal to the state.

"Yes, we will appeal," said Patricia Colbert, a member of the would-be school's local board. "We think this is an important need for our community to support our at-risk students."

One by one, School Board members said they supported the goal of Mavericks in Education to serve students who have failed to cope with regular high schools. But they also voiced doubts about the wisdom of letting a for-profit corporation manage the state and local funding that each student would bring to the venture.

"I think there is a way that we in Hernando County can provide that same level of service," said member Pat Fagan during an afternoon workshop. "I do not like having to deal with someone who is a couple hundred miles to the southeast of us, dealing with our children, our state funding and the like."

Ultimately, they may not have a choice. District officials said the company had largely resolved their concerns — which focused on the school's financial plan and the presence of spending safeguards — in recent changes to their application.

"Just barely," said David Schoelles, chairman of a district review committee. "We still are not completely comfortable with the way the application is presented."

This is not the first time the board has denied a charter school application. Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology, the county's first charter, was approved on appeal to the state in 2003. These days, board members praise its accomplishments and leadership.

Superintendent Wayne Alexander said there were many reasons to worry about the company's proposal to serve 350 students in three daily shifts.

"They've moved on, they have jobs, they've tasted money," he said, referring to high school dropouts. "This image of all these wonderful students sitting around Hernando County who will come rushing back to school is very iffy."

Nevertheless, he advised the board to approve the application, if only to preserve a collaborative relationship in the event that the state backs the company.

But board members said they preferred to go on the record in opposing the venture, with several suggesting they could open their own charter school for dropouts instead.

"Our community could fill this need without a company coming in," said Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson. "If the (school's local board) is that committed to it, they should have been here promoting it."

Mark Thimmig, Mavericks' chief executive and president, said his company had resolved each of the board's concerns regarding finances. And he predicted the state would quickly agree.

"We could still see a charter school open in August," he added.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando School Board rejects charter for high school dropouts 11/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 12:42pm]
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