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Pasco charter school sues district over enrollment cap

LAND O'LAKES — A charter school has sued the school district over a refusal to let the school expand its enrollment.

Athenian Academy wants to increase its student body from 390 to 472 for the fall. School officials say it needs to grow to remain financially viable and argue their contract with the district allows the added numbers.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has rejected the charter's request, pointing to state law that says a charter school receiving a C grade or lower after being rated high-performing "may not increase enrollment or expand grade levels."

Athenian earned a C in 2012.

The lawsuit contends that the district's rejection violates its contract, which sets Athenian's student enrollment for 2013-14 at no more than 498. That language exists regardless of the school's rating, the lawsuit suggests.

"We have a contract," said Jim Mathieu, chairman of the Athenian Academy board of directors. "We expect them to live up to it."

The school has asked a court to order the district to allow the increased enrollment, for which the school has already held a lottery and created a waiting list.

"Getting this resolved four months from now doesn't help us," Mathieu said, noting that classes resume mid August.

Browning told the School Board in an agenda item to be reviewed Tuesday that Athenian Academy's fate rests in its own hands. If it earns a state grade of B or A, he wrote, "the school's maximum enrollment will be 472 students, as requested by Athenian Academy in writing on March 1, 2013. This enrollment is supported by their contract."

But if its gets a C or worse for a second straight year, Browning wrote, statute provides that "the term of the charter may be modified by the sponsor and the charter school loses its high-performing charter school status."

Athenian Academy's third-grade FCAT passing rates have declined markedly this year.

During this dispute, Mathieu said, the district has reduced Athenian's funding for student transportation and special education by about $50,000, claiming the school's reporting was inaccurate. He sent a letter to Browning on Wednesday demanding reimbursement.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the district will be meeting with Athenian officials Monday to discuss the accounting differences.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Pasco charter school sues district over enrollment cap 05/31/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 8:32pm]
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