TAMPA — Seven applicants have passed the first hurdle to open new charter schools in Hillsborough County, officials said Friday.
That might seem like a lot, but they are the survivors of a group that two months ago stood at 23, said charter supervisor Jenna Hodgens. Twelve dropped out along the way, and a staff committee is recommending that four be denied.
"The superintendent can change the recommendation, and the School Board can vote any way they want to on these," Hodgens said.
Hillsborough oversees 30 charter schools, which use public money but operate independently of the districts that authorize them.
With some schools struggling academically or financially in recent years, the district has taken a harder line. Last year it shut down three schools and rejected three applications.
Hodgens declined to say what prompted the recommended denials this year, saying the district was still preparing legal documents.
But under the law governing Florida charters, districts can reject applications for a variety of reasons, including insufficient finances, faulty academic plans, or management structures that don't satisfy state requirements.
Last year Hillsborough rejected an application by Virginia-based Imagine Schools, saying its plans would plunge the school into debt and provide too little independence from its for-profit management company.
Among the seven prospective schools this year, four are connected to management companies.
One, Hillsborough Charter School West, would be operated by Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. The company has postponed the opening of another school approved last year by the county.
But the district has raised questions about the management structure of those schools, which would be overseen by a governing board in Lee County, and is negotiating over the arrangement. "I still want local representation," Hodgens said.
The School Board is scheduled to vote on the applications at its Dec. 7 meeting.