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For-profit charter school approved amid public opposition in Sarasota

Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy’s application says it will contract with Charter Schools USA, a for-profit education management company.

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It's practically a foregone conclusion, said Bridget Ziegler, Sarasota County School Board member, in her pre-vote comments.

But speakers during the three-hour public comment portion of the March 5 school board meeting didn’t feel the same way about the charter school application from Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy. 

The school board ultimately approved it by 4-1 vote with board member Tom Edwards the lone dissenting vote, but not without repeated criticism from the public of the applicant, its application and corporate charter schools in general.

The applicant, Florida Charter Education Foundation Inc., intends to contract with service provider Charter Schools USA, a for-profit education management company that operates more than 100 schools in five states serving more than 75,000 students, according to its website.

Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy's application projects it will serve 1,235 students in grades K-12 by its fifth year of operations.

Before the board voted, Edwards said that he had not received one email or heard one comment in support of the school’s application. Further, he said the applicant had stacked the deck against the board.

Edwards was referring to the charter application being submitted on Dec. 13, 2023, which he characterized as being done to “exploit” the holiday break taking place during the review period.

Under state statute, a school board that receives a charter school application must approve or deny it within 90 days of receipt. 

“There’s still confusion in my mind as to what exactly their interpretation of what classical education is,” said Edwards. “There’s still confusion and high drama surrounding their proposed location. There’s no food or transportation plan. There’s a $350,000 custodial budget line — that’s going to be the cleanest school on the planet.”

“A location for SCPA has been identified at 8751 Fruitville Road in Sarasota, Florida. Should the site become unsuitable, a new location will be identified,” according to the application. 

The Classical Academy of Sarasota, a private school, currently occupies the site but has plans to relocate, according to the application.

The requirements of the statute were met, Superintendent Terry Connor explained.

“We noticed that there are concerns, but we do believe after legal has reviewed, our charter committee has done its capacity interview, that it does meet the requirements of the checklist that is provided by the state. … It meets those requirements in order to be approved.”

And in response to a question from Board Chair Karen Rose about the legal defensibility of a no vote on the school’s application, Patrick Duggan, board attorney, replied, “This is a matter of statute, and it's something that the Legislature has addressed. In Tallahassee, by mandate, they have taken away — largely — this board's discretion when it comes to the approval, or really the denial, of a charter school.”

The Florida Department of Education has 22 criteria when evaluating a charter school application, explained Duggan. If those are met by an application, then it can be denied by a school board only for good cause, which the board would be required to support with findings related to the FDOE standards.

“You would need to establish good cause here today as a group,” said Duggan.

A denial would have likely led to an appeal from Florida Charter Education Foundation, which would have then been reviewed by the State Board of Education whose decision is final, subject to judicial review, according to the FDOE.

If the matter went to court, the winning party would be “entitled” to recoup legal fees from the losing side, said Duggan. “All the way to this point (today).”

Following the board’s vote, as Ziegler commented, an outburst from the audience elicited a formal warning from Rose at which point she promised to empty the chambers if the disrespectful behavior continued.



James Peter

James Peter is the managing editor of the Longboat and Sarasota Observers. He has worked in journalism in a variety of newsroom roles and as a freelance writer for over a decade. Before joining the Observer, he was based in Montana and Colorado.

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