TAMPA — As many as 10 new charter schools could open in Hillsborough County, including a high school that will recruit students from the successful Learning Gate Community School in Lutz.
At its last meeting of the year, the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday approved the proposed Gates Senior High School without debate.
Charter schools, whose numbers are growing around the state and nation as alternative choices, use tax money to operate but are managed separately from other public schools. The Hillsborough district currently lists 36 of them on its website.
Learning Gate was launched in 1983 as a preschool with a working farm. Over the years, it has grown to serve kindergarten through the ninth grade with an emphasis on the environment.
While no one objected Tuesday to the Gates proposal, there was opposition to a planned kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school in the Highwoods Preserve section of New Tampa, which hopes to serve 960 students by its fifth year.
Two homeowners said they worried about the impact the New Tampa Academy would have on traffic and asked the board to deny the charter.
"Think of the community as a family," said Marcel White of the Richmond Place neighborhood.
Board member Jack Lamb, who represents New Tampa, wanted to defer the matter until January, when the Tampa City Council will consider the school's site zoning.
But school district attorney Thomas Gonzalez told members they could not consider location when voting on a charter.
"We are beyond limited," chairwoman Candy Olson lamented before the board voted unanimously to approve the charter.
The 10 proposed schools were culled from 27 applications, which is typical for a year. The others either withdrew their applications or were denied.
If all 10 open and grow as projected, they could serve more than 5,000 students. Four schools on the list pledge to focus on math and science, and two will target students from migrant families.
Also on Tuesday, the School Board discussed teacher concerns in this second year of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Empowering Effective Teachers project.
Member April Griffin said she heard from one teacher who was to be evaluated during the last week before the winter holidays.
"I don't know that the week before winter break is the time to observe a teacher," she said. "Timing is everything."
Administrators said that with some 15,000 employees to observe and evaluate, it's hard to avoid scheduling visits on days when students might be getting ready for a vacation or returning from one.
In a separate discussion, member Stacy White wondered how wise it was for the district to bring students back to school after the winter holidays on Jan. 2, which is a Monday.
"I have a gut feeling that we may have some issues with absenteeism on that day," he said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.