When the Hillsborough County School Board considers a proposal to develop a K-8 charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, members’ overriding concern should be what is best for our military families.
The charter proposal offers the quickest way to meet their educational needs.
Last year, the school board rejected an application to build a K-8 charter school on the base, despite pleas from military officials for additional classrooms.
MacDill has 10,000 active-duty personnel with about 12,000 children in the area. Veterans have another 25,000 children. The on-base Tinker Elementary School is near capacity.
So there seemed little question about the need.
School district staff and board members faulted the school for not having a local nonprofit board to manage it, a legitimate concern, and a state appeals panel upheld the district’s decision.
Now, those behind the charter proposal have resubmitted their application, this time establishing a strong local oversight board.
It includes such respected community leaders as Henry Gonzalez, president of the local branch of Platinum Bank; Samuel Ellison, former chief executive officer of Beck International; Jose Valiente, a Tampa accountant; and Tampa attorney Stephen Mitchell.
Gonzalez, Ellison and Valiente are all former chairs of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
The for-profit Charter Schools USA, based in Fort Lauderdale, would run the school. But the board would ensure rigorous local control. Moreover, you can bet MacDill’s military command would demand accountability.
The application is complicated by a conflict between the district and Charter Schools USA over three schools it now operates in Tampa.
Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has questions about the local governance of those schools. She recently notified the company the schools’ charter contracts could be terminated if the company did not comply with the local oversight requirement.
She tells us she took the step only after the schools failed to respond to the district’s inquiries. She also stresses the charters would not be closed this year — even if the district has to take over their operation.
It is encouraging the charter operators now are working on a resolution with the district.
In any event, Elia assures us that the dispute won’t affect the MacDill application, which is good to hear.
The application should be judged strictly on its merits — and should be approved if it meets the necessary requirements.
It’s obvious — and understandable — that Elia would prefer that the district address MacDill’s needs, rather than locate a charter on the base. She raises the possibility of transforming the on-base Tinker Elementary — an A school — to a K-8 and perhaps changing the assignments of Lanier Elementary and Monroe Middle in the area.
She’s assigned a task force to work on MacDill’s needs. But enough time has been spent on such plans.
Given the state’s lack of school construction funds and the complication of large-scale student reassignments, the charter provides the quickest and most effective way to meet the needs of MacDill families.
The charter would offer 875 seats and be designed to address the specific stresses of military children, many of whom may have to change schools numerous times.
In addition, the on-base school could serve as a recruiting tool.
MacDill, home to the 6th Air Mobility Refueling Wing, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and other military operations, is critical to the nation’s defense. It also is critical to the region’s economy, accounting for more than 15,000 jobs and a $5 billion-a-year economic impact.
Tampa’s political and business leaders appreciate its importance and have aggressively sought to provide whatever support the base needs.
The school board, of course, should attend to the details, but it also should see that allowing MacDill a charter school is the prudent course of action.