LAND O'LAKES — Despite an expected challenge, the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday denied a virtual charter school application from a group that is under investigation.
Board members said concerns raised over K12 Inc. operations by the Florida Department of Education and the Securities and Exchange Commission created enough "cause" for them to turn down a charter request by a group that would contract with the group to run Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco County for a second straight year.
"Events and occurrences outside give me pause to where I don't believe we should approve this application," board chair Joanne Hurley said.
Hurley noted the state is looking into allegations that other K12 programs used uncertified teachers; and she said the NCAA has stopped accepting online course credits that college athletes earned from a K12 subsidiary, citing concerns over that program's standards.
The problems appeared severe enough to warrant overruling the district staff recommendation to approve the application, said board member Alison Crumbley, who made the motion to deny.
"They are very serious concerns … that need to be resolved … before the students in Pasco County are exposed to this," Crumbley said.
Paul Hull, chairman of the Southwest Florida Virtual Charter School Board formally proposing the school, expressed disappointment that the Pasco School Board would overrule its staff. He said the group would pursue all available paths to make programs available in Pasco.
"We've been looking forward to working with the school district to provide students this innovative educational option that is both needed and wanted," Hull said via email. "While virtual instruction isn't for everybody, for some it's very important, and its time has come."
Board members Cynthia Armstrong and Steve Luikart initially suggested the better course of action would be to approve the charter and then get tough when negotiating a contract.
"Right now, it's my feeling to prevent a possible lawsuit, we're backed in. They did dot their i's and they did cross their t's," Luikart said. "We can put some teeth into the contract end of things."
Crumbley offered that the board might delay action on the application until K12 has a chance to resolve its issues. But assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose told the board that the applicant insisted on a vote within the state-mandated 60-day response time frame. A decision had to be made. After hearing Armstrong and Luikart speak, Hurley said that while the application might be legally sufficient, that wasn't good enough. "I stand with Mrs. Crumbley," she said, turning the tide to outright denial.
Board member Allen Altman was absent.
Pasco followed in the footsteps of the Marion County School Board, which last week rejected a Florida Virtual Academy charter there, citing the same concerns. The only difference there was that Marion's superintendent encouraged the board to turn the charter down.
Other school districts also have denied Florida Virtual Academy applications, only to see their decisions overturned.
The State Board of Education, which has signaled its support for virtual schooling and charters, told the Palm Beach school district in July that it must allow a K12 virtual charter to open despite local officials' rejection of the application.
Palm Beach district officials called K12's application flawed.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.