Saturday, February 17, 2018
Education

Pasco school board gives reluctant approval to new charter school

LAND O'LAKES — A new virtual charter school is slated to begin offering courses in Pasco County when students return to classes on Aug. 19.

But Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco almost didn't happen.

The Pasco School Board on Tuesday contemplated turning down a contract for the school, which will be run by K12 Inc., a national firm with an oft-questioned reputation both academically and managerially. Board members expressed the same concerns when discussing the agreement that they aired a year ago, when they denied the charter request.

The deal was back before the board after the state charter appeals commission said the district had no legal basis to turn down the application.

"I am very concerned that our students may not be getting what they need from this school," said board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley, who eventually cast the only vote against the contract. "This is very frustrating to me that we have to accept this."

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the board that district lawyers found the application met all legal requirements to become a Florida charter school. He didn't sound too convinced.

"I'm not out to pick a fight," Browning told the board. "But I will tell you, I am concerned about this charter school. I am concerned from the standpoint that, from the information we're gathering not only across Florida but across the country, they are not a high-performing charter."

Reports from inside the state and out have indicated, among other things, that previously high-achieving students saw their academic performance plummet after entering a K12 program. There have been questions about whether the company hires qualified teachers, and whether the teachers have too many students assigned to them to have any meaningful contact with them.

A board with local representatives would officially oversee the charter. But K12 would manage almost all the affairs of Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco, including choosing the curriculum to hiring the teachers.

If the governing board were to sever ties with K12, district charter schools supervisor Nancy Scowcroft said, "really there will be nothing left of the school."

Joe Chisholm, a company employee representing the charter school board, said the federal lawsuit against K12 ended without findings of fault. A Florida review of its hiring in Seminole County found only certified teachers were employed, he said.

His explanations offered little comfort to School Board members, who indicated a desire to turn down the school but didn't want to face a lawsuit.

"I still believe that this board had very valid concerns when we attempted to deny this application," board member Joanne Hurley said.

The only recourse now, she said, was to approve the contract and closely monitor the school — something Browning pledged to do. Hurley said the School Board must urge lawmakers to change charter school law to avoid the same scenario in the future.

In related news, the school district received three applications for possible new charter schools in 2014-15, the smallest number in several years. The deadline was Aug. 1.

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