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    Oldsmar told to revamp charter school plan

    The School Board cites several shortcomings in denying the application but will allow the city to amend it.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


    After wrestling two hours with the city of Oldsmar's request to establish a charter school next year, the Pinellas County School Board declined the application and made city officials start over.

    The application for the Oldsmar Charter Middle School fell short on several fronts.

    It didn't address the district's recent settlement and court order of the county's school desegregation lawsuit. School Board staff also said the plan was not open to everyone, because it would aside enrollment for Oldsmar residents and dismiss students for logging excessive absences or failing to earn a 2.5 grade point average.

    Oldsmar officials said they would amend their application. But that move put the board in conflict with other charter school applicants, who were not afforded that luxury.

    At the same time, some board members said the plan had merit and would make a fine charter school after changes were made.

    "We don't do any irreparable harm if we put it off," said School Board member Max Gessner.

    Still, it was unclear Tuesday evening whether the city of Oldsmar would revisit the issue.

    City Manager Bruce Haddock said city officials will take the next two to three months to decide.

    Another charter school application barely squeaked by the board in a 4-3 vote.

    The Love of Learning Charter School proposal will make it to the second stage of the application process, as long as the school's founders clarify some areas of the application.

    Among the items not clear to the board were exactly which students the program would target and what kind of a instruction they would receive.

    "Where is the education here?" asked board member Linda Lerner, who opposed the application. "I'm willing to work outside of the box, but I don't see the box here."

    Ron Lipton, a representative for the school, said he was pleased with the board's decision and intends to fill in all the blanks on the school's application in the coming weeks. Supporters of the school are seeking an Oldsmar site.

    Superintendent Howard Hinesley recommended that the board deny two other charter school applications.

    A decision on the Marcus Garvey Academy in St. Petersburg was postponed until Jan. 30 because a school representative could not attend the meeting. The Richard Milburn Academy of Salem, Mass., withdrew its application. Founders of that school plan to reapply next year.

    In other matters, the School Board plans to schedule a February workshop to discuss single-member districts after several residents spoke in support of it.

    Supporters say single-member districts will allow board members to focus on fewer schools, will invite fairness to the School Board table and attract a larger, more diverse pool of candidates.

    It has been difficult to elect an African-American to serve on the School Board, lamented Vyrle Davis, chairman of the African American Voter Research Education Committee. Even when qualified candidates were found, the size of the county worked against them, he said.

    Interest in the matter comes after the Pinellas County Commission included single-member districts on its board. If the discussion is successful at the School Board level, residents could be casting a vote for or against the matter in 2002.

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