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District approves charter school

Still, members worry the Language Academy in New Port Richey may not have enough students to open.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 3, 2002


LAND O'LAKES -- Pasco County School Board member Marge Whaley expressed concern that the proposed charter school might not recruit enough students to open next month.

Board Chairman Kathleen Wolf wondered out loud what would happen if the school didn't open. If that happened, she asked, what would be the fate of the teachers who resigned to work at the school and the students registered to attend it?

But then the board voted unanimously, 3-0, on Tuesday morning to approve the school, the Language Academy in New Port Richey.

It had no other choice, Wolf and Whaley said. If the board had voted against the school, its decision would have been appealed to the state.

"They approve anything," Whaley said. "Gov. (Jeb) Bush is very in favor of charter schools."

The Language Academy already has spent more than $70,000 in district money, Whaley said.

Charter schools receive state funding to operate but are run independently of traditional public school districts. Their charters detail how they will operate.

The Language Academy's charter states that it plans to be a 120- to 140-student school for grades 4-6 at Westminster Presbyterian Church's education building, 4125 U.S. 19. It has permission to expand to include seventh and eighth grades.

The school's president, the Rev. Gary Carson, said Spanish is laced through the curriculum and students will be fluent in Spanish by the time they complete the school.

The School Board did not express concern about the school's curriculum. The issue of enrollment drew the members' questions.

To date, the school has enrolled about 30 students, Carson said. It is scheduled to open Aug. 12, and its charter said it needs a minimum of 80 students. Carson said not to worry; it will have at least that many. If it doesn't, it will have a contingency plan to operate, he said.

He envisions six classes of 20 to 23 students each, he said.

Carson said two of the teachers will come from Pasco schools but have not yet resigned.

Wolf called it a "precarious situation."

Whaley said, "It's not ideal."

Either the teachers will have to resign before they are certain to have jobs at the charter school, Whaley said, or Pasco principals are going to find out at the last minute that they are without teachers.

The board members weren't the only ones worried about the situation.

President Lynne Webb of United School Employees of Pasco said, "I would hate for these teachers to be victimized because of a lack of planning on the charter school's part."

-- Ryan Davis can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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