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Proposed Hernando charter school for dropouts runs into problems

BROOKSVILLE — A Fort Lauderdale company has swung and missed on its second attempt to open a charter school for high school dropouts in Hernando County, and district officials say they've run out of patience.

"We've given them a chance to clean it up once," school superintendent Wayne Alexander said, referring to a previous School Board decision to grant an extension to the for-profit Mavericks in Education. "I think the intention is a great intention. (But) I don't think they've met the standard under the law."

On Wednesday, the district said a review panel had recommended denying the company's application to open a 350-student school for dropouts and at-risk students by next fall. The School Board will discuss the issue at a workshop at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

While the company passed muster in four of the five statutory categories, it fell well short in its budget and financial planning, said committee chairman David Schoelles.

In its report, the district committee expressed doubt that Mavericks could recruit 350 students, even within an annual pool of nearly 2,000 dropouts within the 23,000-student district. And it said the company hadn't shown whether it could operate a school on a leaner budget of 100 to 200 state-funded students.

The panel faulted the company for its "unrealistic assumption" that all 12 of its teachers would be paid as first-year teachers on the bottom step of the salary scale. It said the school's local governing board would not have clear financial and curricular control over the school and its public funds, as state law requires.

"Since the governing board does not hire or supervise any employees, even the school's principal, it is difficult to see how the board could provide effective governance under this scenario," the report said.

Most troubling to the committee was an apparent double-booking of $250,000 in state grants over two different budget years. It called that a "$250,000 error" that "undermines the financial viability of the school."

But the company isn't going down without a fight, said Mavericks president and CEO Mark Thimmig.

He disputed the double-booking claim and doubts about the school's governance, and said he plans to appear at the Tuesday board meeting to argue for the program's viability.

"I absolutely believe there are far more than 100 kids in that county that we can attract to come back and finish their high school diploma in the model we are recommending," Thimmig said.

"It's 100 at a minimum, and potentially hundreds of kids who potentially won't get an education next year if we don't open this school."

"I have great respect for this superintendent and the board, and I do believe they put kids first," he added.

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

Proposed Hernando charter school for dropouts runs into problems 10/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 6:13pm]

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