TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board turned down a bid Tuesday to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base — but not without a lot of discussion and a promise by superintendent MaryEllen Elia to redouble her efforts to meet the needs of military families.
Elia announced she will create either a work group or task force to look at ways to serve military families who often live far from the base and cannot send their children to the on-base public school, Tinker Elementary.
"Clearly we need to move forward on whatever we possibly can do to support the efforts of the MacDill community to make sure we are meeting their needs," Elia said.
But she stood by her recommendation to deny the charter based on governance issues, and the School Board backed her unanimously.
At issue, district officials said, was the relationship between the nonprofit Florida Charter Educational Foundation, which would hold the charter; and Charter Schools USA, the for-profit company that would run the school.
A third entity, described as an advisory council, is made up of local leaders and base personnel.
Despite numerous conversations, "We still can't tell who's in charge of the school," said Jenna Hodgens, the district's charter schools supervisor.
Ken Haiko, chairman of the foundation, told the board his group had answered all of the district's questions about governance during recent meetings.
"I fail to understand why this effort has been controversial," he said, adding that the project was something the MacDill community wanted. "It allows us to serve military families who sacrifice in so many ways to serve all of us."
Some board members, including Doretha Edgecomb and Stacy White, lamented that the two sides were not able to work out their differences in the interest of the military community.
"We are at odds about the governance," Edgecomb said. "But we are not at odds about doing our very best for our students and their families."
Separately, Elia responded to an allegation by the American Civil Liberties Union that her proposed expansion of the district's security department will result in more arrests.
"Our district's focus is on the education of children and a safe and secure operation of our schools," she said. "That priority will be shared by highly qualified and trained security officers who do not possess the power to arrest."
While the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office will have a role to play in the expansion, she said, "The major focus for all of us is on our safety for the students at our schools and developing a great relationship with them."
The board will discuss and vote on the plan, which would ultimately place an armed guard in every elementary school, on Dec. 18.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]