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Hillsborough School leaders explore what's next after pushback from charter school denials

Posted at 4:56 AM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 19:17:01-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County School leaders were updated on next steps during a meeting Tuesday after they opted not to renew the contracts of four charter schools in the Tampa Bay area and limit the charters of two others earlier this month. School leaders also issued their response to a letter from Florida's Education Commissioner.

The four schools include Kid's Community College Charter High School, Pivot Charter School, SouthShore Charter Academy, and Woodmont Charter School.

The board's non-renewal decisions prompted State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to send the board a letter last week.

In his letter, addressed to the school board and Board Chair Lynn Gray, Corcoran explained with the decision to not renew these charters, the board may have violated state law, and he threatened to withhold certain funding as a result.

The Education Commissioner said the district did not give the required 90-day notice to the charters if they weren't going to renew them, per state statute.

Corcoran also cited that none of the schools that were denied were below a C-Rating, and many of the students are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Corcoran gave the board until Tuesday to respond to his letter.

“During the 90-day period where we send the letter saying that we're anticipating or intending to close, [the schools] will stay open. During the course of any appeal, they will stay open. If we ultimately prevail, we would of course work with the charter to make sure the students and the staff weren’t displaced overnight," Hillsborough County School board attorney Jim Porter said during Tuesday's meeting.

ABC Action News received the letter going to the Commissioner in response. It stated the district has historically brought forward potential renewals to the board in May or June to prevent disruption to the schools, students, families, and staff. The letter also argued reasons why the board is in compliance with the charter contract and state law.

School board members cited in their mid-June board meeting, as well as in letters to the four charter schools, the reasons to not renew, including financial issues and problematic academic records.

"With all of that, and additional money, and getting a PPP private loan, these charters are still not doing as well as public schools," said School Board Member Nadia Combs. "So why do we continue to support them and not do a better job of educating the taxpayers?"

Dr. Stacy Hahn, another school board member, also brought up reported problems at two of the charter schools when it comes to providing for children with special needs.

"As a special needs teacher, and working with special needs teachers, violating a student's civil rights, not implementing an education plan, that has grave concern for me," Hahn said.

Hillsborough County Schools also lose millions of dollars each year when children leave the district for charter schools.

Parents choice

Superintendent Addison Davis said the district needs to work to keep kids in the district by providing the best customer service, improving marketing, and community outreach.

Before the meeting Tuesday and during public comment, parents and students advocated for the need for school choice and asked the board to reconsider.

"All parents have a right to choose what school their kids go to and that should never be decided by anybody else," said Sarah Soich, a charter school parent. "Charter schools are amazing schools with amazing people. We love it. That’s part of what keeps us in this community is our school.”

Board Chair Lynn Gray shared her response to parent's pleas to reconsider their decision.

"I don’t think any of us disagree with school choice, none of us, because we all know that is the way that our parents want to have, their children in a school setting that they desire," said Gray. "It’s the actual quality, the learning environment that we are putting our children, my grandchildren in. Is it the best that we can have, or is it similar, or is it less?”

See the district's response below: