The Sarasota County School Board had one question for out-of-county charter school applicants Tuesday: What are we not already doing that you intend to fix?
Representatives of four Sarasota charter-school proposals presented their visions and defended their applications to the School Board at a Tuesday workshop. The Sarasota County School Board pushed back against proposals from the Pivot Charter School, headquartered in Fort Myers, and the Sarasota Academy of Math and Science, governed out of Hillsborough. The concern, according to School Board members, was that if Sarasota is one of only five of Florida’s 67 districts to earn an “A” grade and was fourth in the state in student achievement in 2013 and no one in the community is asking for the schools, then where is the need?
“We have a concern with sharing our referendum dollars with out-of-county providers,” School Board member Shirley Brown said Tuesday. “What are you offering that we’re not already providing?”
The concern, Brown said after Tuesday’s workshop, is that out-of-county governing bodies are taking advantage of Sarasota’s high test scores and availability of funding for corporate gain.
“Our students are high-achievers,” Brown said. “So charter schools can come here and have their students do well on standardized tests and use those results to validate their model.”
Superintendent of Sarasota County Schools Lori White said the School Board decided at a recent workshop to no longer give capital dollars to charter schools whose parent organization resides outside of Sarasota County, thereby excluding proposed charters such as the Pivot School and the Sarasota Academy of Math and Science from district funds.
“The charter schools that are successful in our community have local governing boards,” School Board member Carol Todd said. “We jealously guard our referendum dollars.”
The district has about $8.68 million, drawn from its referendum and capital millage, available to fund charters.
Throughout all four of Tuesday’s presentations, School Board members quizzed presenters on where their governing bodies were located, and if any members of their respective boards were Sarasota County residents.
“We have not had an unsuccessful charter school since 1998,” School Board member Jane Goodwin said. “We have to be very, very careful.”
Representatives of both the Pivot School and the Sarasota Academy of Math and Science defended their proposals, saying they were offering Sarasota parents a choice and would be a source of competition for other area schools.
“We think we will be a good fit for the community,” said Chris Card, representing the Pivot Charter School. “But, if you don’t agree, we’ll go elsewhere.”
“We need choice, but we need appropriate choice,” Todd said in response to the Pivot School’s presentation. “I see not one person from the local community standing up and saying we need this school. If there’s a need not being met, it’s on us to do better, not rely on people from outside to come in.”
There was a tense moment when it was revealed that a land-development company out of Hollywood, Fla., which owns property in Sarasota, drove the Sarasota Academy of Math and Science proposal.
“It’s absurd,” Todd said in response to the revelation that a developer was behind the application. “As a steward of Sarasota County taxpayer dollars, I can’t support this.”
“There’s a kind of, ‘If you build it, they will come’ attitude about all of this,” School Board member Frank Kovach said. “It appears to be corporate driven and without any local support.”
The School Board also listened to proposals from the Sarasota Military Academy for the addition of a middle school and from representatives of the proposed Horizons Unlimited Creative Learning Academy for a charter elementary school.
The School Board critiqued both presentations for inadequate and improperly completed applications.
“It was almost disrespectful to submit the application,” Todd said to the Sarasota Military Academy delegation.
Charter-school applicants will have the opportunity to provide written responses to the School Board’s questions, and the applications will be reviewed again with the answers included. The proposals cannot be re-written, however.
Eleven charter schools currently operate in Sarasota County. Applications for new charter-school proposals were due Aug. 6, and the School Board has 60 days to make a final decision. Six proposals were originally received for the 2014-2015 school year; two were withdrawn.
The final vote is scheduled for Oct. 15. Applications the district denies can be appealed to the Florida Department of Education.
The next Sarasota County School Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1, at the Landings Administration Building, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota.
Residents can call 927-9000 for more information.