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    Board has charter school decisions to make

    The School Board staff has recommended one applicant for approval, three for rejection.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


    LARGO -- The Pinellas School Board will be asked next week to approve a new charter school for next year and to reject three other applications, mostly due to concerns that they would violate the district's desegregation agreement.

    The board will consider the four applications at Tuesday's meetings.

    The district staff that reviews charter school applications had some concerns about the Love of Learning Charter School proposal -- the one recommended for approval. The Love of Learning school applied for a charter last year, but withdrew.

    According to a memo released Wednesday, the district had questions about the school's target population, which the applicants described as both "emotionally mature" and "at risk." Still, the staff decided the school's potential outweighed the concerns.

    Not so for the other three applicants: the Marcus Garvey Academy, the Oldsmar Charter Middle School and the Richard Milburn Academy.

    One other applicant, the Learning Excellence Foundation of Pinellas County, withdrew.

    The Marcus Garvey proposal presented the most concerns about the district's new desegregation agreement.

    "The application . . . clearly proposes to serve African-American students and admits "it is realistic to assume that the vast majority of the students will be African-American,' " the school district memo reads in part. "This is in direct violation to the agreed-upon diversity objectives contained . . . in the court order."

    Tampa attorney Guy Burns, who represents the Marcus Garvey applicants, said Wednesday he disagrees with the district's conclusions. Burns said he would make a presentation at the School Board meeting.

    "I am working with members of the community to make a presentation that would answer many of these questions and rebut their conclusions," Burns said. He also plans to rebut the district's argument that Marcus Garvey would violate the district's desegregation plans by serving black students.

    Under the agreement, which enabled the Pinellas schools this year to close a federal desegregation lawsuit dating back to 1964, until 2007-2008 a school could have a black population of no more than 42 percent.

    Supporters of the other two proposals that were recommended for rejection said Wednesday they are likely to reapply, perhaps next year.

    Oldsmar City Council member Ed Manny said city officials are trying to schedule meetings with School Board members before the vote to make a plea for the plan. If that doesn't work, city officials plan to come back with another plan in the future.

    Robert Crosby, president of the Richard Milburn Academy of Florida, wondered aloud why his application was approved recently in Lee County but could be rejected in Pinellas.

    "If a county is interested in charter schools they help make it happen," Crosby said. He added that he believes the school district staff did a "comprehensive review of our application. Now we know what we have to do for next year."

    Crosby said he would attend the meeting on Tuesday. He said it was unlikely that he would appeal if his application is denied.

    Also on Tuesday, the School Board is scheduled to vote on the school calendar for next year and the year after.

    After much debate about whether to follow the statewide trend toward starting the school year earlier, a committee is recommending that the district start on Aug. 22 next year, roughly the same as this year. However, Superintendent Howard Hinesley is also recommending that the School Board approve an earlier start for the following school year -- the 2002-2003 year. If the board agrees, the district would move the starting date up to Aug. 7 in 2002.

    -- Staff writer Ed Quioco contributed to this report.

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