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    Oldsmar told charter school plan flawed

    The School Board staff says the proposal should be denied, but city officials say with help they can come up with a better plan. Meanwhile, there is competition for the building to house the school.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000

    OLDSMAR -- New hurdles keep popping up for the city's proposed charter school.

    Last month a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund objected to Oldsmar's proposed charter school. On Wednesday the Pinellas County School Board's staff said the plan should be denied.

    In a staff analysis from Superintendent Howard Hinesley, school officials said the plan for the Oldsmar Charter Middle School contains "multiple violations" of a recent settlement and court order for Pinellas County's long-running school desegregation lawsuit.

    "These deficiencies are not minor and might best be addressed by an entirely new application that includes a demonstration of knowledge of such stipulations and orders and a good-faith effort to recognize the preeminence of those documents," according to the memo.

    The district's conclusions echo the concerns of NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Enrique Escarraz. Last month, he wrote to school officials that Oldsmar did not specifically guarantee to abide by the desegregation suit settlement, which requires race ratios in every school.

    In their analysis, school officials said the flaws, which include violations of state law, might have been prevented if the city had met with district representatives before submitting its application in October.

    "Despite being encouraged to do so on several occasions, the applicant did not contact staff for technical assistance," the memo said.

    Oldsmar City Council member Ed Manny, who is spearheading the proposal, said he was not aware that the city staff could have met with district officials.

    "Nobody ever mentioned to us that we could," Manny said. "We would have been there on their doorstep on the first day because we were dumber than dirt on how to do this application when we started."

    Manny said city officials plan to meet with School Board members before they vote Tuesday to "explain our position" and are willing to correct all of the failings addressed by the district staff.

    "If there is something there that we thought we could do and we can't, then okay we won't do it," Manny said. "We'll change it."

    That would mean the city will have to change one of the proposed middle school's key concepts: Giving enrollment priority to students who live in Oldsmar. According to the city's proposal, the middle school would serve 360 students and would have a ratio of one teacher for every 20 students.

    "The targeted area appears to be only for residents of Oldsmar," according to the memo. "This does not comply with the requirement that the school be open to all students who are otherwise eligible to attend."

    The city also would need to change its proposed strict expulsion and discipline procedures because they are not in compliance with state law or the court order. The memo said the provisions "appear to be aimed clearly at creating a public middle school for Oldsmar students alone."

    The city is proposing to use the former Oldsmar Elementary School at 300 St. Petersburg Drive W for the proposed charter middle school. The city wants to rent the building from the school district for $1 a year.

    But the facility "lacks many features necessary in a middle school," and needs major remodeling, according to the memo. The district also may have other plans for the building.

    Another group has also proposed using the vacant building to house its charter school.

    The Love of Learning Charter School also happens to be the only proposal to be embraced by the district's review.

    District staffers are recommending the denial of two other applications along with Oldsmar's proposal, and the approval of the Love of Learning Charter School. Another applicant has withdrawn.

    "We certainly don't have a problem with (the Love of Learning Charter School)," Manny said. "But they are south-county people and they really, honestly should stay in south county."

    The board will consider the four remaining charter school applications at its meeting Tuesday.

    If the city's application is turned down by the board, Manny said, the city will re-apply next year.

    "Obviously, we didn't use the right buzz words in what we were saying," Manny said. "But we aren't going to quit. We are going to work at it."

    - Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at

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