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Charter school plan gets a go-ahead

The approval just opens the door for an educator to begin nailing down the details of opening the school by August.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- The Pasco County School Board unanimously approved a local educator's plan to open a charter school in August, but warned him not to expect the district to help him transport students or feed them lunch.

School Board members also questioned whether the school, which might lease classroom space from a local church, would teach evolution or creationism in its science classes.

The educator, Hank Johnson of New Port Richey, told the board he's not counting on bus or lunch service from the district. Johnson also told board members that he can't answer their questions about teaching creationism until he buys the school's textbooks, which will help define the curriculum.

Johnson did say, however, that he didn't think creationism should be taught in a science course.

"I'm a little concerned about putting creationism under science," said board member Kathleen Wolf.

"I agree wholeheartedly," Johnson replied.

The board's approval of Johnson's charter application doesn't guarantee that the school will open. The vote merely gives Johnson the go-ahead to negotiate a contract -- or charter -- with the district that will spell out exactly how the school will operate.

Johnson has proposed a school for 140 students in grades five, six, seven and eight, that would eventually grow to an enrollment of 320. The school would offer a back-to-basics curriculum and small classes, he said. His application asks for a little more than $2.5-million in state and federal money to run the school during the next three years.

Johnson is a former middle school math teacher, special education administrator and college dean. He taught part of the 1993-94 school year at River Ridge Middle/High School. He also holds a doctorate in educational leadership.

Also Tuesday, Superintendent John Long told board members that teachers soon will begin changing their classroom decorations to comply with state fire codes that are being enforced this year for the first time.

The codes state that teachers can only decorate 20 percent of their walls with student artwork, class work or other flammable materials. Long said he told principals to begin enforcing the code in the coming weeks.

Long said the rule has never been enforced in Pasco, but now that local fire marshals have the power to inspect -- and shut down -- schools for fire code violations, he said the district will soon begin enforcing the 20-percent rule.

"We're taking it seriously, and it's going to be a major change for us," Long said.

Several board members said they've received calls from teachers decrying the change. They're worried that their classrooms will become stark and cold.

- Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischer@sptimes.com.

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