PORT RICHEY — Pasco County's oldest and most academically successful charter school is seeking an expansion.
Dayspring Academy, co-founded by state Sen. John Legg and others in 2000, has informed Pasco school district officials of its intent to apply to open new campuses in Holiday and Hudson in 2014.
"We have a long waiting list. It's pretty close to our current enrollment," Dayspring senior administrator Suzanne Legg said. "And we have a lot of students who come from a lot of spots, mostly on the west side (of Pasco). ... We feel like it's something we'd like to share with families in those areas as well."
Dayspring, which features an arts-themed curriculum in grades kindergarten through eight, also is seeking to increase its enrollment for the coming school year. It has requested approval to grow by close to 9 percent, to 600 students.
The district's other charter schools have made similar requests for the coming year.
Countryside Montessori and Imagine School at Land O'Lakes have requested a 20 percent increase each, while both Academy at the Farm and Athenian Academy have proposed growing by up to 15 percent.
Superintendent Kurt Browning already has advised Athenian Academy that its plan is not acceptable because the school did not meet statutory requirements to grow its enrollment by that much. The school's state grade declined last year from B to C, and initial FCAT results this year indicate further drops.
The state has set academic performance as the key factor for charter school growth. Athenian Academy officials have challenged the district's interpretation of the law and threatened a lawsuit.
Imagine School's request also is likely to generate conversation. The A-rated school's charter contract is set to expire June 30, and it does not have the same "high performing" status as Dayspring and Academy at the Farm that creates an easier path to expansion.
District officials lately have raised concerns that traditional schools are losing children to charters, home schooling and virtual courses. State funding follows students who leave for those publicly-approved alternatives.
Browning recently announced plans to create a choice task force to explore different ways the district might attract children who have left.
"We want to bring those people back, and prove to them that we can do everything that (the charters) are doing right now," said School Board member Steve Luikart.
Luikart welcomed the idea of more choices, including the pending expansion of Dayspring Academy. "I will say, they are tops when it comes to charter schools," he said.
Dayspring routinely has the county's best FCAT scores and a high demand for its few open seats.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.