TAMPA – The group that makes recommendations to top state education officials on charter school appeals is siding with the Hillsborough County School Board in its decision to turn down an application for a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base.
The Charter School Appeals Commission helps the state Board of Education review appeals by charter school applicants that have been denied by a local school board. Its members, who are appointed by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, decided Monday to recommend that the state board uphold Hillsborough’s decision.
The commission is expected to make its recommendation to the education board in late March.
The local school board voted unanimously in December to stick with Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s recommendation to deny the application for MacDill Charter Academy because of questions about who would be in charge. Additionally, district officials said the 475-page application did not cite specific examples for how the school would address the needs of military children.
The school would have served nearly 900 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The Florida Charter Educational Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, applied for the charter. Day-to-day operations would have been run by Charter Schools USA.
The foundation would have been the oversight authority, with a MacDill council advising.
“As we’ve known from the very beginning of this journey, building a charter school on a military base is a very complex process and this phase is just one more step in that process,” foundation spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds said in an email. “Although this advisory panel did not recommend overturning the district’s denial, the need for military families is well-documented and was reinforced again yesterday. Ultimately, the State Board of Education will determine whether or not the denial should be overturned and we are committed to continue the fight for military families who want this educational option available on base for their children. We will not give up on doing what’s right for students.”
After the school board denied the application, Elia said the district was working on ways to better meet the needs of military families.
But proponents of a MacDill charter school, which include base commander Col. Scott DeThomas, say a charter school would be the best option.
DeThomas has said it would be a good alternative to traditional public schools where students in military families would be surrounded by peers going through similar challenges – like having parents stationed overseas.