Pasco school board splits on charter school deal with Patels

Philanthropist Kiran Patel’s organization plans to open a school near Trinity in 2025.
Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School, a charter school in Temple Terrace, plans to expand into west Pasco County.
Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School, a charter school in Temple Terrace, plans to expand into west Pasco County. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 17

The Patel Foundation for Global Understanding wants to extend its charter school operations into Pasco County.

The plan for the foundation — which is funded by Tampa Bay entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran Patel — to open a 1,000-student high school by 2025 nearly fell apart Tuesday, though. Two Pasco school board members questioned the proposal to give the group 20 acres of district-owned land for $10.

When the board purchased the site in the Trinity area of west Pasco, at a former county government spray field just north of State Road 54 and east of Gunn Highway, officials touted it as strategically placed where the district eventually would want another high school. Since buying the property for $750,000 in 2017, the district has not been able to justify building a school there, but some officials said they still anticipate the need.

“There is no other land left in west Pasco County,” said board vice chairperson Alison Crumbley, whose husband runs a real estate firm in the area. “We purchased it as an asset for the district. I am very concerned about giving it away.”

District planners said they have land available in the nearby Bexley subdivision for another high school as that community expands.

Crumbley and board member Colleen Beaudoin expressed several other concerns about entering the partnership with the Patel group, which opened a charter high school in Temple Terrace four years ago. That school offers an advanced “global perspectives” curriculum and earned a B in the state grading system in 2022.

In Pasco, Patel’s foundation proposed a Cambridge Programme curriculum, for which several district schools have received international recognition since its arrival locally in 2013.

“I would like to hear more about district plans before we approve a Cambridge charter high school,” Beaudoin said. “We do a phenomenal job with Cambridge. I think we should be doing this.”

The two members also questioned the propriety of entering the land agreement with Patel before the group had applied for a charter from the district. They suggested the application and approval should come first.

The others on the board did not share such reservations. They said the agreement aligns with the district’s efforts to have partnerships with successful, locally run charter schools, and said it’s a sensible business decision that will also benefit students.

Board member Al Hernandez highlighted the Patel Foundation’s agreement to pay 100% of the construction costs, to build according to state standards for schools (not a requirement for charters), and to hand the entire school back to the district if it closes.

The district would continue to own 56 acres at the site, could save its limited construction money for other purposes, and add new seats in a growing area, Hernandez said.

“It would behoove us as a business community to bring the Patel family into Pasco,” he said.

Board member Cynthia Armstrong noted that if the Patel school does not move into the area, a private school might attempt to fill the demand of families seeking less crowded school conditions.

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“I don’t want to lose the (state funding) to a private school,” Armstrong said. “I’d much rather see it go to a charter school.”

Chairperson Megan Harding stressed that even with the approval of the agreement Tuesday, the school could not progress without the board’s future approval of a charter.

Ash Bagdy, representing the Patel Foundation, said little during the debate save to assure the board, “We have good intentions. This is our investment back into the community.”

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