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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Fate of MacDill charter to be decided Tuesday

TAMPA – Hillsborough school district officials plan to recommend denial of an application to open a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base because of questions about who would be in charge.

School district officials plan say they expect to advise the school board Tuesday to deny the application for MacDill Charter Academy.

“We have been unable to complete our consideration of this application ... because of our inability to determine the identity of the governing board,” wrote Jenna Hodgens, the school district’s charter schools director, in a Nov. 22 letter to charter school officials.

Those leading the charge to open the school say a five-member board of a Florida nonprofit corporation called Florida Charter Educational Foundation Inc. would be the ultimate decision-maker for the school. An advisory council made up of local military leaders, parents and advocates would make recommendations to the board.

The nonprofit has no Tampa-based board members, but one of the council representatives would become a member if the charter is established, according to a spokeswoman for Charter Schools USA, the Fort Lauderdale-based company that would run day-to-day operations at the school.

The 475-page application for the school, which would serve up to 875 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, was filed by the foundation.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools run by private companies and governed by their own boards of directors. They hire their own teachers, design their own academic programs and control their own finances.

The Florida Charter Educational Foundation Inc. was formed exclusively to govern charter schools and already serves as the oversight authority for three Charter Schools USA schools, including Hillsborough County’s Henderson Hammock Charter School.

“The idea is really an extra layer of accountability,” said Richard Page, executive vice president of development for Charter Schools USA. “You have this board that oversees multiple schools and this advisory council is tied to just this one school.”

District and charter school officials have scheduled a meeting on Monday to talk about the application. If the issues are ironed out at that meeting, it’s possible the district could reverse its recommendation and advise the board to approve the application.

In her letter, Hodgens wrote that the language about how the school would be governed in the application contradicts itself in some places. For example, one portion of the application says the MacDill Advisory Council would be responsible for adopting a budget and establishing policy. But on the last page, the application says the Florida Charter Education Foundation will manage and control business and property of the school.

“In short, this application does not present the governance structure that is required of it, and therefore cannot be fully considered at this time,” Hodgens wrote.

Page, the Charter Schools USA vice president, said the topic was discussed at length on Oct. 8 but that he will meet with the district Monday.

“We’re not really sure why the questions now,” he said. “We will meet with them on Monday and continue to work with them as much as we can to clarify as many questions we can in hopes they approve the application.”

If the board approves the application, the school could begin serving students as early as fall 2014. It would be the first charter school at MacDill and only the ninth in the country on a military base. AMC East Communities, MacDill’s housing developer, would provide the land for the school.

The school would be open to the public, but preference would be given to active military families.

Tinker Elementary School, a kindergarten-through-fifth grade school already on the base, serves about 500 students and is nearly full.

The goal of putting a charter school on the base is not to take students from Tinker, said Col. Scott DeThomas, who has a second-grader who attends Tinker, but to expand elementary options for military families and provide a middle-school. DeThomas, the base commander, said MacDill’s 10,000 active-duty military members have a total of at least 12,000 children.

“What we’re looking for in a charter school is to be able to increase that capacity,” he said. “We have a lot of good data that show parents, especially parents who move a lot, prefer to have their children on base with them while they are at work.”

Hillsborough school board member Candy Olson said she has concerns about the charter school’s application.

“To me, it was very repetitive and not very specific,” she said. “It was not clear who was going to be in charge. It didn’t really sound like they knew what they wanted to do in terms of educating children.”

DeThomas said the public school system does a good job with the resources it has but does not serve military students like a base charter school could.

“I haven’t seen any commitment or resources,” he said. “It’s hard to tackle the needs of military families.”

Hillsborough County currently has more than 40 charter schools. In addition to the MacDill charter application, 13 others were submitted to the school district this year.

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