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Charter argues for tax funds
Dayspring Academy says it is entitled to construction and maintenance money.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Time Staff Writer
Published December 10, 2007
Dayspring Academy joins other charter schools across Florida that are taking a hard stance that as public schools, they are entitled to all aspects of public education funding including money for capital improvements.
[Special to the Times]
PORT RICHEY - As the Dayspring Academy looks to the future, the charter school's leaders see money as an issue.
They want a bigger share of the public pot.
"It's hard to justify why our children get much less funding than if they went to Mittye P. Locke Elementary just up the street," said Tom Buyea, the school's board chairman.
So Dayspring has asked the Pasco School Board to change the way it does business with charter schools, which receive tax money for students but not for things like construction and maintenance. Specifically, Dayspring officials want the district to reduce the fee that the charter school pays for district services, and they want access to money for school construction that comes from state and local sources, including the Penny for Pasco.
"We just feel the money should follow the children," Buyea said.
Dayspring Academy is not alone in taking such a position. Charter schools across Florida increasingly are taking a hard stance that as public schools, they are entitled to all aspects of public education funding including money for capital improvements.
Most notably, the city of Pembroke Pines-operated charter school system - which has about 5,300 students - has sued the Broward County school district over the issue. The city contends that the district unconstitutionally kept the tax money of $2 per $1,000 of property value that is intended to fund public school construction.
In the Pembroke Pines case, that amounts to almost $2.5-million a year. The city filed its lawsuit last month, after a decade of fruitless negotiations for the funds.
Dayspring leaders have been after the Pasco school district on the money front only since the summer. That's when they first requested that the district reduce the school's administrative fee from 5 percent of its total funding to 3 percent. Dayspring officials argued that they didn't need or receive many of the services that the Pasco district says it provides for the charge.
At the time, they also floated the notion that they wanted more money for capital projects, noting that they have a growing school that can't necessarily afford to expand.
If the point wasn't clear enough in the district's Land O'Lakes headquarters, it certainly was made in Tallahassee by Dayspring's co-founder, state Rep. John Legg.
Legg filed legislation, which died in committee, that would have made charter schools eligible for capital funding. He also talked quite a bit about the inequity in which charter schools must meet the state's class-size reduction rules, but they may not receive class-size reduction funding that mainstream schools get to help them meet the mark.
Since first approaching the Pasco School Board, Dayspring Academy has gotten no action. The board denied its fee request, then later rescinded that action to give a new task force time to explore the services the school district provides to charters.
Buyea attended the task force's most recent meeting last week to raise all the issues again. But he got no satisfaction.
"That meeting ... was of absolutely no value to addressing the issues we need to be addressed," he said. "We need to get with the School Board and sit with them and pound this out."
Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose, who oversees the task force, said she never expected to deal directly with Dayspring's key concerns.
"My goal is to work with the district departments to make sure they (charter schools) get the same level of service we give to our district schools," DuBose said.
Money decisions are policy issues, she said, and are out of her hands.
School Board member Marge Whaley said she got a letter from Dayspring's board asking for a face-to-face meeting on the issue. She's passed it along to her colleagues and superintendent Heather Fiorentino to decide what to do.
As far as Whaley is concerned, though, the money should stay with the district. Unlike most Florida districts, she said, Pasco is growing and can ill afford to hand money over to schools that exist in many ways to compete with the mainstream public system.
"What they want is for us to give them capital funds, which they are not entitled to by law. ... They also want Penny for Pasco. That is another thing they are not entitled to by law," Whaley said. "Until the law changes, it's not going to happen."
The law could change, though.
Legg has indicated he might refile his bill relating to charter school capital funds. And Senate Education chairman Don Gaetz has said he intends to file legislation that would "disentangle" charter schools from the public districts.
He suggested the bill could include language that would change the fee structure, perhaps eliminating it and allowing charter schools simply to contract with districts for only the services they desire. It also could tackle the issue of the class-size mandate and how charter schools meet it.
While all those issues play out, Dayspring leaders are assessing all their options. That includes talking to lawyers about possibly following in the footsteps of Pembroke Pines.
"We've been in contact with legal counsel," he said. "We're not threatening. It's just that one of the options if you don't get satisfaction in this world, unfortunately, is you've got to do what has to be done. All we want to do is get the kids treated fairly."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.