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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Education

New application planned to open MacDill charter school

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TAMPA — Backers of a charter school for MacDill Air Force Base — denied last year by the Hillsborough County School Board — plan to resubmit their application for a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school by the end of the month.

At the same time, the school district is taking steps to transition its K-5 elementary school already on the base to a K-8 school for the 2015-16 school year so parents with middle-schoolers will have an on-base option.

In an op-ed column in Thursday’s Tampa Tribune, Richard Page — executive vice president of development for Charter Schools USA — wrote that MacDill Charter Academy will give it another shot this year. Contacted later Thursday, he declined to elaborate.

“If the school board’s opposition stands, it would send a message to all seeking choice that they shouldn’t bother trying to change the schools or students who need it the most — they should stay with the easy stuff or be penalized,” Page wrote.

The application deadline for charter schools seeking to open for 2015-16 is Aug. 4.

Meantime, school district officials will propose a plan to a MacDill advisory council today that would add three grades to A-rated Tinker Elementary School, the K-5 school. The council is made up of community members, base staffers and district administrators.

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Valdes said the 2014-15 school year would be a planning year for transitioning to a K-8 the following school year. The district hopes to purchase two modular buildings to add classrooms at about $200,000 each.

“We are setting aside some money in our facilities plan to be able to do that,” Valdes said.

The school board voted unanimously in December to reject the application to open MacDill Charter Academy after the district’s staff said it was unclear who would call the shots at the school. The school would have served nearly 900 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Decisions would have been made by the nonprofit Florida Charter Educational Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale, with a MacDill council advising. The foundation would contract with Charter Schools USA, also based in Fort Lauderdale, to handle day-to-day operations.

The denial was supported by a state panel after the base appealed to the state Board of Education. The effort was dropped on the same day charter school language was added to an omnibus bill before the Florida Legislature, the “Florida GI Bill,” which encourages military base commanders to work with the Department of Education to open charter schools on military bases.

In his op-ed, Page noted that Charter Schools USA’s three existing schools in Hillsborough improved their school grades this year. Winthrop Charter School moved from a B to an A, Henderson Hammock from a C to a B and Woodmont from an F to a C.

“We can’t let politics or adult interests stand in the way,” Page wrote. “It’s my hope that the progress shown and the CSUSA track record will move the district to change its mind and let the MacDill Air Force Base charter school move forward — at least to fulfill the requests of military families who have called for this school since 2010.”

Deputy Superintendent Valdes said the district’s charter schools director and attorney will review the new application when it is submitted.

“The governance issue was the primary concern,” Valdes said. “Certainly we’ll be looking to see what’s changed in the application.”

ekourkounis@tampatrib.com

(813)259-7999

Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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