Thursday, May 24, 2018
Education

MacDill group withdraws request to open charter school

TAMPA — A group that wants to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base has dropped its request, but says it will try again.

Florida Charter Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works closely with for-profit Charter Schools USA of Fort Lauderdale, has been at odds with the Hillsborough school district since December, when the staff and School Board rejected its proposal to open a K-8 school on the base.

Backers of the plan, including base personnel, wanted military children who live outside MacDill to have access to a school on the base. Tinker Elementary, which is on the base, does not have enough room for children whose families commute.

They also were concerned about middle school students who now can attend either Monroe Middle in South Tampa or magnet schools throughout the district.

But district officials had questions about the school's governance structure and whether its educational plan fit its stated mission. Based on those arguments, a state advisory committee sided with the district.

Foundation president Ken Haiko said that, as a military veteran, he will do what it takes to get the proposal in acceptable shape.

"Our goal is to serve the needs of students of our military families as efficiently as possible," Haiko said in a statement Thursday.

"To achieve that goal, we decided that the best course of action is to make some minor revisions to the application and resubmit it."

Students will benefit "if a few clarifications will help the process go more smoothly," he added.

Issues raised by the district include the relationship between the foundation and Charter Schools USA, which is almost entirely owned by Jonathan Hage, a supporter of and contributor to Gov. Rick Scott.

By law, charter schools are supposed to benefit children and not businesses, making it important to have an arms-length relationship between a school and its paid managers.

In arguing its case, the district used foundation meeting minutes that show Scott referred MacDill officials to Charter Schools USA, which became involved before the foundation did.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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