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Hernando School Board's denial of charter dropout school rejected

BROOKSVILLE — As expected, the Hernando County School Board has lost a key round in its effort to block the opening of a new charter school for high school dropouts.

Tuesday, the state Charter School Appeal Commission ruled that the School Board exceeded its authority in November by rejecting the Fort Lauderdale-based Mavericks in Education's application to open a school serving about 350 students.

"We had concerns about their enrollment projections, which in turn affected their whole budget, and we had concerns about the way they budgeted their startup monies," said Hernando board attorney J. Paul Carland. "We made all those arguments to (the commission,) and they were not convinced."

The ruling must still be ratified by the state Board of Education.

Under state law, charter schools are public and use state and local tax dollars, but they have independence from local school boards to craft their own programs and policies.

Mavericks officials say they remain committed to opening the school, which would serve students in three shifts in the former Brooksville Regional Hospital facility on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The school hopes to use computer technology and a kid-friendly program to attract students who have either left the public schools or are at high risk of doing so.

"We feel really excited and supported that the president of the United States specifically talked in his first address to Congress about the importance and commitment to charter schools and changing the high school dropout situation in this country," said Mavericks CEO Mark Thimmig.

Hernando School Board members praised those goals last fall. But they objected to the school's financial plan, and the degree to which the for-profit management company would control public funds. Under the Mavericks plan, the company would draw 97 percent of each student's nearly $6,000 in state and local funds after paying an up-front service fee of 5 percent to the district. A local Mavericks governing board would get the remainder.

But Hernando officials conceded that such an arrangement did not appear to be illegal under Florida law and told the School Board it would be unlikely to win a state appeal.

The board later endorsed an online pilot program with Penn Foster Career School to teach the same dropout population.

Now Mavericks' appeal with the state seems assured, unless the state Board of Education next month takes the unusual step of reversing its own commission.

Still, the company's goal of opening a school by August will largely depend on the Hernando School Board's cooperation.

"Of course, we'll be somewhat at the mercy of the district," Thimmig said. "If the state board votes to (uphold the appeal), we still have to negotiate a contract with the district. We don't know how long that's going to take."

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

Hernando School Board's denial of charter dropout school rejected 02/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 8:19pm]

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