Suwannee Democrat

January 30, 2013

White Springs charter school application denied by school board

Joyce Marie Taylor
Suwannee Democrat

Jasper — The proposed conversion charter school for the town of White Springs was shot down at a special called meeting of the Hamilton County School Board (HCSB) on Monday, Jan. 28, by a vote of 4-1.

The original application for a conversion charter school utilizing existing resources at South Hamilton Elementary in White Springs was submitted in May of 2012 at a time when students, teachers and parents were fighting closure of the school by the previous school board administration. That application was withdrawn on July 16 to correct known deficiencies and the charter school governing board was given an extension to Oct. 1 to resubmit. On Oct. 8 another extension was requested by the governing board and HCSB granted them a Dec. 1 extension.

The HCSB received the revised application on Nov. 30, 2012. The Charter Review Committee (CRC) then had 60 days to review it and recommend either approval or denial.

The CRC was composed of district staff that included Bonnie Penner, Rex Mitchell, Felecia Moss, Karen Mitchell, Philip Pinello, April Johnson, Phyllis Porter, Regina Jordon, Carol Milton, Ida Daniels, Adam Walker and Fred Robinson, along with school attorney Jay Willingham and consultant Mike McHugh.

At Monday night’s meeting McHugh was asked to present the findings of the CRC to the superintendent and the HCSB. All members of the CRC were present at the meeting to answer questions.

The CRC used evaluation criteria from the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) Charter School Model Form, as well as information obtained from the applicant interview, and advice from the school district’s legal counsel, Jay Willingham. McHugh stated the CRC found six areas within the application where the standards were met, six areas where the standards were partially met, and six areas where the standards were not met, along with one standard that was not applicable.

In the CRC’s Jan. 23 letter to Superintendent of Schools Thomas Moffses, it was stated, “It is a significant concern that the application was rated as ‘Does Not Meet the Standard’ in several critical areas including Educational Program Design, Curriculum Plan, Governance, Budget, Financial Management and Oversight and Action Plan. Additionally, Section 5 (Student Performance, Assessment and Evaluation), while rated as partially meeting the standard, contained no measurable academic goals in math, reading, or science or non-academic goals in areas such as attendance, student promotion/retention or parent satisfaction.”

Based on the CRC’s evaluation of the conversion charter school application, McHugh said they recommended to the superintendent that he deny the application.

Moffses asked the board if there were any questions and board member Johnny Bullard wanted specifics on what was lacking in the area of curriculum. He was told the reading plan wasn’t clear and concise, and was based on outdated Next Generation Sunshine State standards, rather than the new common core standards.

Another question from the board had to do with the budget. Penner explained the applicant’s budget was built based on a population that doesn’t currently exist at the school.

“There were a lot of concerns that the budget was based on revenue projections that may not come into play,” said Penner.

Start-up dollars and cash flow analysis as worded in the application, Penner said, were going to be donated by members of the governing board, but there was no evidence to support it by letters of credit or other types of documentation. There were also unclear lines of oversight and management of the charter school and its funding, she added.

As for whether or not a municipality can be a conversion charter school applicant, Willingham said, “The statute is very clear that a conversion charter school can only be applied for by the district school board itself, the principal, the teachers, the parents, or the school advisory council at the school.”

He went on to explain there is a different ruling for a start-up charter school that does allow a municipality to be the applicant.

“I believe the applicant made great efforts to try to get a contrary opinion from private counsel and public counsel and was unable to obtain one contrary to that position,” said Willingham.

Moffses said he believed the applicant’s intentions were good and he had no issue with that.

“But does it meet the standard?” he asked. “At this point I do not see that it meets the standards of the application. With that being said, my recommendation at this time is not to accept the charter application.”

Board member Jeanie Daniels made a motion to accept the superintendent’s recommendation and Sammy McCoy seconded. A roll call vote was then taken and Bullard started out with a no vote, followed by four yes votes from McCoy, Daniels, Gary Godwin and Damon Deas.

Moffses then announced that the HCSB denied the charter school application. The district now has 10 days to submit a letter of denial to the applicant, after which they can appeal the decision to the FDOE.

White Springs Mayor Dr. Helen B. Miller, who is on the charter school governing board, said after the meeting, “We did our best for the students, parents and teachers in our community and we will continue to work for quality education in the greater White Springs community.”

When asked if she planned to appeal the school board’s decision, Miller said, “The governing board volunteers will meet and make that decision at the meeting.”