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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Education

MacDill group reapplies to open base charter school

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TAMPA — The people behind the idea to open a K-8 charter school on MacDill Air Force Base reapplied on Thursday afternoon in the hopes that revamping their application changes the minds of the Hillsborough County School Board members who denied it last year.

The chief criticism before was a lack of clarity about who would be in charge.

The new application says decisions would be made by the local board of a new, nonprofit MacDill Charter Academy LLC, rather than the Fort Lauderdale-based Florida Charter Educational Foundation as earlier proposed.

“The board is responsible for the operation of the school, the running of the school, the financial integrity of the school,” said Tampa attorney Stephen Mitchell, who serves as chairman and president of MacDill Charter Academy LLC.

“There shouldn’t be any question with respect to local involvement. We’re optimistic they’ll approve it.”

Charter Schools USA, also based in Fort Lauderdale, would still be responsible for day-to-day operations. Originally, the foundation would have received input from a MacDill council.

The other governing board members are: Henry Gonzalez, president of the local branch of Platinum Bank; Samuel Ellison, former chief executive officer of Beck International; Jose Valiente, Tampa accountant and past chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; Cathy Briere, whose husband is in the military; and Robert Wolf, local president of the Galen College of Nursing.

The Hillsborough school board last December rejected the foundation’s application because of concerns local people would not be making the decisions.

District charter schools director Jenna Hodgens has said the Florida Charter Educational Foundation gave the illusion that decisions would be made by a local board. But that hasn’t been the case, Hodgens said, with the three other Charter Schools USA sites already operating in Hillsborough.

District officials had no comment Thursday on the 580-page application because they hadn’t read it yet, spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.

“It’s not the only one,” Hegarty said. “We’ve got a whole process we go through.”

A committee led by Hodgens reviews the applications — which are due Monday — then makes recommendations to Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Elia is expected to recommend which charter schools for the board to approve at the end of the fall semester.

The district expects to receive at least 10 applications for new charter schools for the 2015-16 school year.

Meantime, the district is planning to add modular units to include grades six through eight in the A-rated Tinker Elementary School, which is already on the military base.

Mitchell said 90 percent of the 400-plus military families who responded to a MacDill survey said they want a charter school on base, Mitchell said.

According to the charter application, many military families who live off base are interested in sending their children to school at Tinker but it is at capacity. The K-8 charter would serve nearly 900 students.

ekourkounis@tampatrib.com

(813)259-7999

Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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