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FLORIDA: Charter school rule changes raise local control issues, money concerns for public school officials

contractLess local control and potentially more work and expenses for Florida school districts will be the result of charter school revisions, say school officials.

The changes, generated by passage of House Bill 7009 during the 2013 Florida legislative session, went into effect July 1.

Particularly worrying to school officials is a proposed standard charter contract to be developed by the state Department of Education. The contract will go to top state officials including the governor for review before it’s put in place.

“It takes away local control and our ability to do what is best for our children,” said Tommy Allen, St. Johns County School Board chairman during a recent workshop discussion on charter schools and the new law.

The district’s superintendent agrees.

“It takes away all local control from our local school board. … The citizens of St. Johns County voted for our local school board and that’s who needs to make those decisions,” said St. Johns County Superintendent Joe Joyner of using the state DOE contract. “(The local school board is) charged with the authority overall for the schools including charter schools so (the control) should rest with them.”

He believes loss of that local control also will hurt students.

“You can’t monitor or govern charter schools from the state level and the further we remove those decisions from where the student is the more difficult I think it will be,” said Joyner, adding it also hurts the chances of charter schools being successful.

“These are our children. We expect our children to grow academically. … You just don’t give your children away without knowing what you’re giving them to.”

Denise Faulk, the district’s director of guidance and choice, says there’s been debate about the standard charter contract.

“Each district is different. … If the contract is uniform, it can’t be amended (by a district). That raises a lot of concerns,” Faulk said.

Timing change for applications

Also of concern is a change in timing for charter school applications. Before charters could only submit an application on Aug. 1. The district had 60 days to respond.

Now no district may refuse to receive a charter application submitted before Aug. 1. The 60-day clock starts ticking whenever the charter application is received.

That could lead to districts having to conduct reviews year round.

Faulk said that becomes a problem because it takes staff and resources away from the business of running schools.

St. Johns County puts charter applicants through a rigorous process, asking questions about academics, financing, location, transportation, food services and all the other daily issues with which schools deal. The people asking the questions and doing the research are the ones who do similar jobs within the school district.

Having the Aug. 1 date “was what allowed me to manage processing the applications because we only have 60 days,” Faulk said. Expanding submission dates removes the flexibility. “It makes it more challenging to have staff available to thoroughly review the application during the summer.”

More applications means more work

Another change allows charter applicants to submit a draft application by May 1 along with a $500 application fee. The district must review and submit feedback on material deficiencies by July 1. Then the applicant can make changes, possibly several times, and resubmit by Aug. 1.

Problems could arise if the district raises further questions of the final resubmitted application. Applicants could challenge why the district didn’t raise those issues earlier.

Tim Egnor, who is executive director for curriculum services, says allowing early submittals, then reviews and resubmissions “could be a game changer.”

If enough applications started coming in, the district could find itself having to put people on the job year round and the $500 application fees don’t begin to touch that expense.

Just how much a review costs isn’t certain, although the district is doing a cost analysis at the direction of the school board.

Joyner expects the figure to be “staggering.”

Egnor says there’s a general idea about how much it costs for officials to go through the day-long reviews but still to be figured are how much staff time and legal costs are involved.

Good points

Faulk says there are some “strengthening components” in the wide-ranging bill.

Among them is a requirement that charter schools must maintain a website including information such as the school’s academic performance, school grade, board meeting minutes, service providers and programs. Before, financial details and board members were required. The additional info will make it easier for parents to get details when they are trying to determine what makes the school unique and what it can offer their children, she said.

Also encouraging, she said, is the new law now says “student academic achievement for all students must be the most important factor” in determining whether a charter school is renewed or terminated.

Source: St. Augustine Record – by Marcia Lane

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Florida.


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