LAND O'LAKES — A new charter school that faced early problems with its application has won a 15-year contract to open in Pasco County in the fall.
But the lengthy agreement comes with a caveat that the school will have obtained financing for a permanent new building. That's because Pepin Academies lawyers indicated the school needed a longer-term deal to secure a loan for its new home.
"Pepin is asking for a 15-year contract because they want to make an investment in this county," Barbara Wilhite, the group's attorney, told the School Board on Tuesday.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said Pepin's financial requirements, as well as its track record of success in Hillsborough County, led him to recommend the agreement.
School Board member Joanne Hurley balked at the proposal. She argued that Pepin should not get an initial contract any longer than other charter schools have gotten in Pasco County — no longer than five years.
She noted that Pepin doesn't have a 15-year deal in Hillsborough.
"If we do this for Pepin, as wonderful a school as they are, that means every other charter school that wants to open … could make the same argument and prevail," Hurley said, stating that the school's financial ability to get a loan should not be the district's concern.
Board attorney Dennis Alfonso acknowledged Hurley's dislike of treating applicants differently. He contended, though, that the board could differentiate its treatment if it had justification.
Offering Pepin 15 years wouldn't paint the board into a corner, he said.
Other board members said their attorney's advice offered a degree of comfort. Still, they said, they wanted assurances that they were offering a longer contract so Pepin could secure its site, and not just to allow it to exist longer.
Wilhite agreed to negotiate an addendum to the contract that would require the school to get financing for its building within three years, or face a reduction in the contract length.
Board members said they would prefer that the school purchase new construction and not pay for a lease.
With those changes, the board approved the deal, with Hurley opposed.
Pepin Academies of Pasco County will serve students with "specific learning difficulties" in the third through 10th grades. Celeste Kellar, who has worked at Pepin Academies for more than nine years, will be the principal.
The school will be located at 12830 Shady Hills Road in the Quail Ridge subdivision.