Friday, August 17, 2018
Education

Incoming speaker Corcoran says bill that would benefit his wife's charter school is part of broader reform

SHADY HILLS — Classical Preparatory School, a charter school founded by the wife of incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has its sights set on expansion.

Opened in 2014, its waiting list is twice the size of its 406-student enrollment. And its contract lets it grow to nearly 1,000 students through 12th grade.

To explore its options, lawyers for the kindergarten through ninth-grade school last week asked to meet with Pasco County development planners about a possible 37,000-square-foot addition. The request came two weeks after lawmakers approved a bill that would make it easier for Classical Prep to access state funding for construction projects.

The perception, noted by some in Tallahassee, was of a powerful lawmaker benefiting from legislation he helped advance. But Corcoran said Tuesday that the two actions were not related, and he bristled at suggestions otherwise. The language allowing charters access to state money after two, rather than three, years of operation had a much bigger target, he explained.

"The reason that law changed is because the Legislature is done allowing big, for-profit corporations to have in statute laws that protect their profits and squeeze out the competition," Corcoran said.

The past rule gave charter firms such as Imagine Schools and Charter Schools USA a leg up compared with local startups, he said, because the locals struggled to afford usable facilities while the companies had plenty of cash to underwrite real estate deals.

Imagine has been the subject of reports across the nation, including in Pinellas and Pasco counties, showing how its construction wing built new schools and then leased the sites back to its charter operators at higher rents than other area charter schools paid.

"When the smoke clears, public dollars have paid for a private facility of which the public has no ownership interest in," said Senate Education Appropriations chairman Don Gaetz. Over time, he said, the Florida Legislature "created a real estate scheme for private individuals."

Controversial since the state began allowing them in the mid 1990s, charters are privately run schools that receive public funds and are exempt from many red tape rules. They've grown exponentially in Florida to include more than 650 schools serving more than 250,000 students statewide.

During this year's legislative session, Corcoran and Gaetz set out to curb the "scheme" Gaetz spoke of and give more financial flexibility to successful local charters.

They negotiated tougher provisions on charter school capital funding during the final days of the session, including mandates that state money go only to charters owned by the public, nonprofits or groups not connected with charter operations.

Those provisions against "private enrichment" did not make the final bill (HB 7029), which passed the Legislature and awaits Gov. Rick Scott's action.

Many House members lamented the deletion of those proposed regulations. But Gaetz said they could not survive the pushback by "legislators who had personal financial interests, or their families had financial interests in these real estate transactions."

House Education Appropriations chairman Erik Fresen consults for an architectural firm that specializes in charter schools. His sister and brother-in-law are top executives for one of Florida's largest charter school management companies.

Corcoran, by contrast, has no financial interest in charter schools. His children attend Classical Prep, which his wife, Anne, spent three years planning and another two years operating.

Anne Corcoran volunteered hundreds of hours to the effort, and spent about $11,000 of her own money toward the school's creation.

Gaetz said the incoming speaker "never asked for any consideration," and expected him to continue to push for charter school funding reforms.

That's Corcoran's plan as he moves into the speaker's role. The reforms "will pass, in my opinion, in the next two years because it is good governance," he said.

By the time Classical Prep is ready to act, it will have been running for three years, anyway. Anne Corcoran, a lawyer who receives $1 a year to serve as the school's CEO, said its board wants to grow slowly and deliberately.

The school, which has an A rating from the state, teaches Latin to its elementary students, and kids in the middle grades "Logic School" take all honors-level courses.

Classical Prep hasn't made any requests to the Pasco County School Board, Anne Corcoran noted, and asked to meet with county planning officials just to know what can and cannot be done on its site just north of State Road 52 and west of the Suncoast Parkway.

"It's for the future," she said. "We can't really make any decisions until we know what our options are."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.

Comments
A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall’s white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida. "Speaking of the building being brand-new, L...
Published: 08/17/18
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco schools don’t plan to move teachers over state scores

Florida school districts recently received their teachers’ state "value-added" scores, and some scrambled to reassign those who got poor marks out of schools in turnaround status.But Pasco County wasn’t one of them, despite state rules relating to pe...
Published: 08/15/18