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Dunedin fine arts school gets approval to open charter site

Despite some concerns, School Board members gave preliminary approval Tuesday to Pinellas' first charter school.

Board members also turned down an application from a group interested in becoming Pinellas' second charter school.

In a 6-to-2 vote, the board approved final negotiations with the Academie Da Vinci in Dunedin to open a fine arts school. If all goes well, the school will open this fall for 40 elementary pupils at 1380 Pinehurst Road.

The Academie currently provides after-school lessons in music, drama and the arts.

"I think this is a very strong application," board member Linda Lerner said. "I think it's an excellent proposal."

Lerner and other board members had some reservations, especially about benefits for the two teachers who will work at the school, an independent school run with public money.

The charter application shows those teachers receiving a salary but no health insurance.

But board member Susan Latvala said that would not be a problem. The teachers at Da Vinci would know in advance they would not get those benefits. Instead, they'd get others, such as smaller class sizes.

In the end, Lerner, Latvala, Lucile Casey and Jane Gallucci voted to grant Da Vinci preliminary approval. Lee Benjamin and Corrine Freeman voted against. Barbara Crockett was not present.

Although board members praised Da Vinci's charter application, they were less kind when presented with an application from the Third Wave Learning Institute. The goal of that charter was to teach up to 600 students who were at risk of dropping out.

Board members unanimously voted to turn down the Third Wave application.

In other business:

Board members gave final approval to move about 131 pupils from Cypress Woods Elementary in East Lake to Brooker Creek Elementary when it opens this fall. The children affected live in the Lansbrook, Devonshire, Ellinwood, Fallbrook, Highgate and Arbor Oaks subdivisions.

As part of that vote, board members also agreed to move 110 children from Forest Lakes Elementary in Oldsmar to Cypress Woods starting this fall. Those children live in the Tarpon Woods subdivision.

Board members chastised the co-chairwoman of a task force they had appointed to come up with a new way to assign children to schools.

Board members were emphatic in their disclaimer, repeatedly saying that Mary Schoonover does not represent their views about the task force or about controlled choice.

Gallucci told fellow board members she had discovered that Schoonover, co-chairwoman of the controlled choice task force, had asked to meet with the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times to talk about a recent editorial that urged caution when creating a controlled choice plan for the county.

Gallucci noted that Schoonover had not consulted the task force before setting up today's meeting.