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District seeks sole power to okay its charter schools

Some Hillsborough educators fret about a new state commission with power to admit new charter schools.

By LETITIA STEIN
Published October 11, 2006


TAMPA - If a charter school wants to open in Hillsborough County, the school district wants to be the gatekeeper.

The School Board voted Tuesday night to seek the exclusive rights to authorize charter schools in the county. If approved by Florida education officials, Hillsborough wouldn't have to worry about charter schools opening locally through the blessings of a new state commission created by the Legislature to approve charters.

"The current law has too many unanswered questions to consider that at this point," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

School officials see merits in the concept but are concerned about who would bear responsibility for charter schools approved by the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission.

Hillsborough has 24 charter schools, which are independent public schools. At times, the relationship between the district and some of the schools has been rocky. Richard Milburn Academy, whose charter recently was terminated, sued the district and is appealing its decision to the state.

School Board member Candy Olson fretted about a provision that would give Hillsborough's existing charter schools freedom to go to the state commission if it benefited them in the future.

"This is an open blanket permission to pretty much do whatever you would like because you were first," she said. "I look at this and see trouble down the road."

Other School Board members echoed her concerns. Still, they approved the requested exclusivity rights for one year. They want to see the issue of existing schools addressed in the future.

Another round of legal wrangling centered around the School Board's purchase of two land parcels near McIntosh Road and Interstate 4 for a new high school in east Hillsborough.

The owner of the larger, 34-acre parcel was former School Board member Joe Newsome.

School Board attorney Tom Gonzalez found no legal obstacles existed because Newsome no longer serves on the board. He noted that the district followed state policy in seeking two appraisals on the property. It agreed to pay the higher, $3.8-million, which Gonzalez said is not unusual.

Plant City sent a commissioner to the board meeting to endorse the site for the school to relieve Durant, Armwood and Plant City high schools.

"Get her built," said Commissioner Robert Brown.

In other business, the School Board named Lanness Godfrey Robinson II as the new director of athletics. He currently is an assistant principal at Wharton High School.

Elsa Tuggle, an administrator in attendance, is promoted to director of adult and community education programs.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400.

[Last modified October 11, 2006, 01:08:11]


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