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Proposed charter school says it fixes flaws described in review

BROOKSVILLE — The backers of a proposed new charter school in Hernando County say they have resolved all of the concerns district officials raised in a scathing initial review.

"I think we not only answered the questions the School Board raised in writing, we went above and beyond that," said Mark Thimmig, president and chief executive officer of Fort Lauderdale-based Mavericks in Education.

District officials said Wednesday they'd received the revisions but had not yet reviewed them.

In August, a district committee found what it described as three serious flaws in the company's application to open a 500-student public charter school for high school dropouts or at-risk students.

Any one of those flaws — in curriculum, reading instruction, or financial management and projections — would be sufficient to deny the application under Florida law, the committee said.

But the School Board last month agreed to let the company revise its application, and Thimmig said his staff have been working hand-in-hand with the district to make "extensive changes" and resolve concerns.

"We reconciled our numbers with the guidance the (district) finance office gave us," he added, describing the initial omission of special-needs funding as an effort to provide conservative budget estimates. "It wasn't an overstatement. If anything, we think it was an understatement."

While Mavericks in Education is brand-new, Thimmig has overseen dozens of charter schools in Florida, Ohio and other states as the former head of White Hat Ventures.

His company's revised application lowers from 400 to 350 the number of students the company plans to teach in three daily shifts.

By its fifth year the school is projecting an enrollment of 485, down from 550 in the initial plan.

It plans to locate the school in a renovated building on the site of the former Brooksville Regional Hospital facility on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, with a self-paced curriculum that relies on computer technology and one-to-one support for students who have struggled in previous schools.

That, in itself, would be a big change for Hernando, which has failed to graduate at least a quarter of its high school students on time in recent years.

But there are other ways in which the new school would represent significant change, compared to the district's other charter school, Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology.

Like Gulf Coast, Mavericks High would have its own local, non-profit governing board.

But the new school would be run by a for-profit company that draws 97 percent of the nearly $6,000 per-student in state and local funds after paying an up-front service fee of 5 percent to the district. The governing board gets the remainder.

Under its management agreement, teachers at the school would be employed by the company, not the board.

"The current charter school doesn't have this relationship (with a management company)," said School Board attorney J. Paul Carland. "It was local folks putting together a board.''

But Thimmig said such arrangements were only fair, since the company — rather than the governing board — would be the entity facing the daily challenges and legal liabilities of running the school.

"We have competency, we have the experience, and we have the wherewithal to operate as good partners," he added.

"This really is about a mission more than it's about a profit," Thimmig said, describing the company's desire to help at-risk students. "(But) we have to run a financially responsible school."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Proposed charter school says it fixes flaws described in review 10/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 7:12pm]
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