Hillsborough County School District is taking steps to close three charter schools

TAMPA, Fla. - The future is in jeopardy for three charter schools currently operating in Hillsborough County, which could impact approximately 2,700 students.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia recently sent out 90-day notice letters threatening to terminate the charters for Winthrop, Woodmont, and Henderson Hammock charter schools. The letter states the district has been seeking clarity on their governance structures since March to no avail.

"The school district has made many attempts to discuss the governance structures of these schools and the schools have refused those efforts, " Elia wrote.

All three schools in question are managed by the for-profit company Charter Schools U.S.A. District rules require charter schools in Hillsborough County to be operated by a local board.

"At this point we have questions about who is actually running these three charter schools," said school district spokesman Steve Hegarty.

In an interview with ABC Action News, Steve Epstein, the principal of Woodmont Charter, said there is an active local board that operates the school. He said he meets with them regularly in his building.

But the district maintains there has been no documentation submitted that explains that.

"We need to get answers," Hegarty said.

The situation is leaving parents and students alike concerned for their school's future.

"It's my school, and it's not fair if you close it," 10-year-old Haylee Hiltunen wrote in a letter.

Hiltunen has been going to Winthrop since it's been open.

"It's scary because this is a really, really good school," Trisha Rooksberry, Haylee's mother said.

The charter board was given 14 days to request a hearing. They can also file an appeal. According to Hegarty, if the district moves forward with the termination of these charters, the students will not be left in limbo. He said the school district will take over operations until they can "figure out what the best thing for the kids is beyond that."

ABC Action News did receive the following statement from the board chairs:

"The Bay Area Charter Foundation and the Florida Charter Educational Foundation are deeply committed to putting the needs of the 2700 plus students we serve above everything else. We are perplexed as to why Superintendent Elia and the Hillsborough County School District would question a governance structure that they asked us to put into place. It would be  a travesty for the school board and the superintendent to tell all of these parents who have chosen one of our schools that they no longer have a choice in their child’s educational options. As the board chairs, we are very proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish with these three schools and we are confident that in the end, the School Board and Superintendent Elia will share our commitment to do what is best for the students."
--Rod Jurado, chairman of the Bay Area Charter Foundation & Ken Haiko, chairman of the Florida Charter Educational Foundation.

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