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School ruse thinly veils profit agenda

A Volusia County-based company's applications to open two charter schools in Hernando County is scheduled for consideration by the School Board on Tuesday. The board members should follow the lead of their counterparts in Hillsborough County and reject the proposals submitted by Academies of America Inc.

It is apparent that the company is trying to seize the opportunity to create a profit, not to create an innovative learning alternative to the public school system, which is what the state law that authorized charter schools requires.

Academies of America, which also does business as Academies of Excellence, recently applied to open 20 elementary and middle charter schools in 10 Florida counties. The applications were sprinkled in cookie-cutter fashion, including Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties in this region of Florida. Facing opposition in Pasco and Pinellas counties, the company withdrew its applications.

There has been similar skepticism about the proposal for two schools in Hernando County. A review by district staff members has concluded that Academies of America's applications are "deficit in so many areas" that they should be denied. The areas that are lacking include financing, curriculum, transportation, technology and food services. The applications are so vague that they do not even propose locations for the schools. They do, however, propose that students, for example, would eat lunch in their classrooms and that their only access to library services would be via computers.

In addition, Academies of America's applications do not meet the most fundamental requirements of law that governs charters schools, which specify that the schools must fill an educational void in the community by using "innovative teaching techniques," and that there is community support for the school. No local residents are identified as potential members of the board of directors or operations staff.

With no clear educational focus, such as a curriculum that specializes in the arts, the environment or computer technology, Academies of America's plans are inherently flawed. The ambiguities about academics are matched only by the private company's lack of detail about how it would pay for building, equipping and staffing the schools.

It is clear that Academies of America has cast a wide net with the hope of catching a few unsuspecting or vulnerable school districts that are either unfamiliar with the state laws that govern charter schools or are willing to overlook the applications' obvious shortcomings.

The Hernando County School District staff has not bought into the company's attempt to capitalize on the lucrative profit-taking potential of the charter school business. The School Board should back up its staff's recommendation to deny the applications.

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