LAND O'LAKES — Nancy Scowcroft had expected maybe seven applications to open charter schools in Pasco County for the 2012-13 school year.
Her office received 11 by the Aug. 1 deadline.
The spate of applications filled her small portable office with so much paperwork that the fire marshal issued a warning to get the copies out to district reviewers as soon as possible.
"He said there wasn't enough walkway for people if they had to get out," said Scowcroft, district charter school supervisor.
The most charter applicants that Pasco has seen at one time before was six. Currently, five are open in the district, which has about 67,000 students.
That relative lack of charter schools is what inspired Charter Schools USA, one of the state's largest charter operators, to put in a proposal to open a K-6 school for up to 862 students in the first year. The company applied on behalf of one of its local boards, which runs two schools in Hillsborough County.
"They asked us to look at areas where there is a lot of demand," Charter Schools USA chief executive Jon Hage said. "Pasco doesn't have a lot of charter schools. … That area has had a growing amount of interest."
The company is applying under the state's new high-performing school law, which allows charter schools with strong past performance to have an easier path to approval for additional locations. The model is Keys Gate Charter in Homestead, which has earned A's and B's from the state grading system since opening.
Mike Kooi, executive director of the Department of Education's school choice office, said he expected to see many charter school proposals this year under the new law. He stressed that the rules do not take away a local district's right to closely review the application and even to deny it, but any denial must have solid documentation to be upheld at the state level.
Several other existing management organizations, including Miami-based Academica, Plant City-based Freedom Schools and K12 Florida (a virtual education provider) have submitted charter requests, as well.
Local groups make up the bulk of the difference.
They include various applications from a charter school teacher, the wife of state Rep. Richard Corcoran and two district teachers of children with autism.
"We felt like they need more services," said teacher Jami Crumley, who has proposed opening the Pasco County Center for Autism with her colleague, speech clinician Jennifer Moore. "We felt like we could provide that through a charter school."
The women have consulted with finance experts while also taking courses in school leadership in the time leading up to their projected opening. Crumley said many parents have indicated a desire to send their children to a program that can do more than traditional schools, including before- and after-school care and summer courses.
The Center for Independence also proposed a small school for a targeted population: It would serve about a dozen students, ages 18 to 22, who have disabilities and qualify for public education beyond traditional high school age.
Because the district has so many proposals to go through, Scowcroft said, she is asking all applicants to extend the 60-day response time set forth in law. Most have agreed. The schools are aiming to open in the fall of 2012 or later.
"Our plan is to have this to the board for action by the 15th of November," she said.
Until then, district staff will review the applications, starting with the "really key areas" such as finances.
"I can tell quickly if there are any problems," Scowcroft said.
It is not likely that all of the schools will be approved. The School Board has not authorized a new charter school since Imagine School opened in 2008.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.