Pasco School Board drops challenge to Florida Virtual Academy

Published March 6, 2013

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School Board on Tuesday reluctantly dropped its fight to keep a virtual charter school from opening in the county.

Board members turned down the Florida Virtual Academy's bid for a charter back in October, noting that the school's management company K12 Inc. was in the middle of a state investigation over questionable teacher hiring practices. They cited several other concerns related to K12's operations around the country as rationale for their denial for a second straight year.

Several other Florida districts also turned down the group's charter application.

Florida Virtual Academy (which is separate from Florida Virtual School) took Pasco's decision to the state Charter School Appeal Commission, which found in favor of the charter. Pasco School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso told the board on Tuesday that the commission took a dim view of the rejection because it focused on issues not directly related to the application.

He asked if the board wanted to take its chances with the Florida Board of Education when it meets March 19 to consider the appeal, given the commission's recommendation.

School Board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley was instantly skeptical. She noted that her reluctance to support the charter dealt with such matters as uncertified teachers and subpar academic standards.

"Are these issues fair game for the contract process?" Crumbley asked.

Alfonso assured her that the negotiations would aim to protect the district from future problems such as those other districts experienced.

"I am optimistic we can address the concerns in the contract," Alfonso said.

With that, board member Joanne Hurley proposed that the district end its opposition to the charter, and begin contract talks with the online course provider.

"I still believe our board had very valid concerns. However I can see if we prolong this … we are in effect going to be wasting our time and taxpayer money to do this," Hurley said. "At this time I would be willing to say we just lost this in the appeal process and not take this any further."

The board's other option was to continue fighting the application, which could end up in court, as it has with the Seminole school district's rejection of the group.

Board members scowled as they supported Hurley's motion, and then repeated instructions that Alfonso be as tough as possible while setting contract terms. He said he would keep them informed as the details emerge.

"We're pleased that the district board has prudently decided to proceed," Paul Hull, chairman of the Southwest Florida Virtual School Board, said via email. "Their wise decision is good for families who want this public school option."

He said he expected successful contract negotiations leading to a high quality virtual education option for Pasco families.

"Our board will of course ensure that our educational provider utilizes high-quality, certified instructors in making this innovative educational experience an outstanding one for Pasco residents who avail themselves of it," he said.