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Pasco charter school leaders reconsider district’s contract offer

Negotiations had stalled over capital projects funding.
Former state senator John Legg founded and operates Dayspring Academy, Pasco County's oldest charter school. [
Former state senator John Legg founded and operates Dayspring Academy, Pasco County's oldest charter school. [
Published Sep. 5, 2018

Leaders of Pasco County's oldest charter school are reconsidering their delayed contract renewal with the Pasco School Board, after hearing district leaders assert state law requires the sharing of capital projects funding.

"We are going to sign a contract as fast as we can," said Dayspring Academy founder John Legg, a former state senator. "Since that is their position, why would we want to challenge them on that?"

On Tuesday, Legg questioned the administration's interpretation of charter school funding law, suggesting Pasco remains exempt from sharing its revenue because of its high debt ratio. Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd insisted during a workshop that the debt exemption had been lifted for future years, and the district would be expected to contribute whatever part of the construction and maintenance funding the state does not allocate.

Gadd quoted the statute he said detailed the district's responsibility. Legg pointed to another section of the same statute to suggest the district was incorrect, and said he would ask lawmakers to fix what he considered an inequity that might leave Pasco charters without capital funds.

Related coverage: Pasco School Board nixes capital fund sharing with charter schools 

A day later, Legg decided he would take the district's interpretation "to the bank."

"Pasco's position is … 'We have to share capital outlay with you,'" Legg said. "That is what we were holding out on. … We are moving forward with the understanding that they publicly said it, that they will share capital outlay dollars with charter schools."

He added that he would expect superintendent Kurt Browning and his staff to stick by that interpretation even if any state agency later says the district read the law incorrectly.

"We are confident they did not deceive us," Legg said.

Related coverage: Dayspring Academy, Pasco County's oldest charter school, seeks 15-year extension 

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said he was pleased Dayspring is proposing to move ahead on the contract renewal.

Alfonso stressed, though, that the contract and capital fund sharing are distinct. The state does not require any sharing language in charter contracts, he said, so the district never would have considered adding it despite Dayspring's demands.

Tuesday's workshop was about the possibility of establishing an incentive program to share some revenue with any charters that meet set criteria, he observed, and not part of contract negotiations.

He said the district's finance department had consulted with others to determine the meaning of the charter funding language, and its best interpretation is that beginning next year it will be obligated to cover the difference of any state shortfall.

All Pasco charter schools get about $2 million combined in state capital funds.

"We're going to follow the law, and this is how the law looks right now," Alfonso said.