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MacDill group makes another bid for a base charter school

TAMPA — A group representing the MacDill Air Force Base community submitted a second application Thursday to open a kindergarten-through-eighth grade charter school at the base.

The Hillsborough County school district said no to their first plan in December, raising questions about governance. At issue was the nonprofit organization that applied for the charter, Florida Charter Educational Foundation, and the for-profit management company, Charter Schools USA. Both are based in Fort Lauderdale, and they work closely together.

This time around, backers say a limited liability corporation called MacDill Charter Academy will be in charge. "We will be the applicant and the charter holder," said Tampa attorney Stephen Mitchell, who is chairman and president. "We will run the school."

But state records list the owner of the corporation as the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, the same group the school district rejected last year.

That shouldn't be an issue, said Colleen Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the foundation and Charter Schools USA. "That's probably done so they can have nonprofit status," she said. Similar arrangements exist for three other Charter Schools USA schools in Hillsborough schools, she said, at the district's request.

District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said it is too early to say whether the new application will satisfy Hillsborough's concerns.

"We're going to put it through the same process we're going to put all of them through," he said. In a typical year, the district gets 15 to 20 applications for charters, which use public money but operate independently of government-run districts.

Backers of the MacDill K-8 school say it is needed because military families, who experience stress and emotional upheaval during wartime, do not have enough options for their children. Tinker Elementary, a district-run school on the base, gets A grades from the state consistently, but does not have enough room for the many children who live off base and in the suburbs.

During the middle school years, students can go to B-rated Monroe Middle School in South Tampa. But most choose magnet schools or other options.

In denying the MacDill group a charter last year, district officials also said they were concerned about Charter Schools USA's track record because of Woodmont Charter, an F-rated school that the company manages in Temple Terrace. Company officials said they expected Woodmont's grade to improve, and it did. Woodmont now has a C.

Mitchell said he hopes to open the base school in time for the 2015-16 academic year. A recent survey of 400 families at MacDill showed 90 percent want a charter school on the base, he said.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

>>Fast facts

Who's in the group

These are the directors of MacDill Charter Academy LLC: Stephen Mitchell, a partner with Squire Patton Boggs; Henry Gonzalez, president of Platinum Bank; C. Samuel Ellison, former president of The Beck Group; Jose E. Valiente, accountant and former president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; Cathy Briere, military spouse; Robert Wolf, president of Galen College of Nursing and former vice president of Hillsborough Community College.

MacDill group makes another bid for a base charter school 07/31/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 9:44pm]
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