Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Vote no on MacDill charter school

At every stop so far, the proposal for a charter school at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base has been rejected. But organizers now are appealing to the state Board of Education, and why not? Gov. Rick Scott directed the proposal's organizers early on, records show — and he appointed all six members of the Board of Education that will hear the case. The board should put politics aside and deny this appeal. That would be best for military families, local control and the integrity of the charter school process.

The applicant, the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, said a K-8 school on the grounds of MacDill would meet the needs of military families who cannot get their children into Tinker Elementary, the on-base school run by the Hillsborough County School District. The charter would add 875 elementary and middle school slots to augment the 550 places at Tinker. Base commanders were behind the plan, saying it would provide a better environment for military parents who rotate in and out of assignments and typically lack a support structure outside the military community.

The School Board made the right call to deny the plan in December, affirming a staff review that found inconsistencies in the charter application regarding the lines of authority at the school. In its application, the foundation said a local governing council of base leaders and others would have "direct oversight" of the school, including "authority to oversee the school's finances," with the foundation providing "broader strategic direction." But sponsors simultaneously insisted the local council had only an advisory role.

The confusion over who is in charge would make it impossible for the school district to hold the charter accountable. The opaque governing structure clouds the chain of command needed to enforce academic and business standards that are central to the charter fulfilling its mission. And it was the private group's responsibility to resolve these weaknesses in its application. Instead it responded to these legitimate concerns with over-the-top allegations that the district was playing politics and was "not interested in helping military families" at the base. That's a ludicrous suggestion about a school district whose on-base Tinker Elementary has been an A-rated school for 12 of the last 13 years.

The district also notes in its response to the appeal — citing documents from the private group — that organizers were directed early on to a for-profit charter school company "upon advice from Governor Scott." That presents a different narrative about how and when the school partners got together. And the district says it calls into question whether the foundation and the educational provider would truly operate at arm's length.

A state appellate commission heard the case this week and voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Education deny the appeal. That's the third ruling against the charter proposal. The board, which is expected to take up the issue March 18, would do a disservice to MacDill families and public confidence in charters by ignoring the concerns of a school district that has proven its commitment to MacDill and by clearing the way for a flawed public-private venture.

Let the private group come back with something stronger that relies more on local accountability than on political muscle from the Governor's Mansion.

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