LAND O'LAKES — A proposal to open Pasco County's first single-gender schools is getting the cold shoulder from the school district.
District staff is recommending the School Board deny charters for two Franklin Academy campuses — one for boys and the other for girls — partly because they were not convinced the applicant had a clear understanding of gender equity laws.
State law allows single-gender programs, but charter school officials need to show both genders would receive the same curriculum, standards and opportunities in their respective programs.
"With such an interesting and innovative concept, we felt they would have addressed statute," district charter schools supervisor Nancy Scowcroft said. "We needed to know that they know what to do and how to do it."
She said that didn't come through clearly in the application, submitted by the Florida Charter Foundation, which has approvals to open schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Of even greater concern was the proposal's financial plan.
"They are going to be operating in the red if, in fact, all of their numbers come together," Scowcroft said. "That is the key issue for us."
Tom Rogers, a spokesman for the Florida Charter Foundation, said the group had not yet made a thorough review of the district staff's recommendation.
Rogers did take issue with the staff's interpretation of how the charter group dealt with gender equity issues.
The laws that the district cited had more to do with how school systems deal with the availability of coeducational courses when single-gender classes are offered, and less to do with single-gender schools within the system, he said.
"The primary function of our school is a single-gender school," to provide experiences that best meet boys' and girls' different learning styles, Rogers said, adding that no one would be forced to attend.
As for the concerns about budgets and enrollment projections, he explained that the application aimed to be thorough but also optimistic.
"We believe we can achieve this," Rogers said of the plan to open with more than 700 students in grades K-6, noting Pasco County has no other single-gender schools. "We wanted the opportunity to aspire to serve the number of students who are interested."
He added that the people behind the effort are competent and experienced, and they would make appropriate budget adjustments as needed. The primary backers of Franklin Academy are former Republican state Rep. David Thomas, former Volusia schools chief financial officer Bill Kelly and former Broward elementary principal Terry Maus.
Scowcroft was not impressed. While the idea might be worth pursuing, she said, "when you're submitting an application you need to give the reviewers accurate information, and I don't believe we received it."
School Board member Alison Crumbley remained on the fence as to whether she would support the charter application. The questions about gender equity in particular fell flat with her.
"There are all-boys and all-girls schools all over the country that are successful," Crumbley said. "People pay a lot of money to go to those schools. If you don't want to be in those schools, you're not going to get in the lottery. I don't see what's the big deal."
The School Board will consider the Franklin Academy applications on Tuesday.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.