LAND O' LAKES - Raising questions about favoritism, Pasco County school board members are beginning to re-think a 10-year-old agreement that has allowed a Port Richey charter school to lease four acres of school district property for the token fee of $1 a year.
"We are giving a perk to one charter school that we do not give to our others," board member Joanne Hurley said Tuesday evening as the board prepared to vote on a five-year lease extension with Dayspring Academy.
The charter school uses the land, next to Schrader Elementary, for a play area and to house portable classrooms.
The board stopped short of voting down the lease extension and ending the agreement immediately. Instead, at the suggestion of Superintendent Kurt Browning, the board agreed to a one-year extension, buying time for both the school district and the charter school to ponder other options.
That compromise fell in line with the views of board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong who, while sharing some of Hurley's concerns, said she was reluctant to bring a sudden end to the decade-old relationship with the school.
"To me you don't just rip something away unless there's a very good reason to rip it away," Armstrong said.
The compromise also will give all school board members time to weigh in on the subject. Board members Allen Altman and Steve Luikart were absent Tuesday, leaving just three members -- Armstrong, Hurley and Alison Crumbley -- to decide the lease's fate.
The current lease expires June 30.
Even with the one-year extension, Dayspring Academy won't have access to all the land it once did. The school district needs about half the property to use as a construction-staging area for a major renovation project at Schrader Elementary.
Hurley was the first to express reservations about continuing the agreement, even as she praised Dayspring as a quality charter school.
She said the amount of space a school has affects the number of students it can serve and the district, in essence, has been subsidizing Dayspring's ability to increase its enrollment over the years.
She also said she was unhappy that Dayspring sent the lease renewal to district offices in October, but it was just reaching the board for a vote two weeks before the old lease's expiration.
"This wasn't brought to us in a timely manner so the board could have a discussion on this," she said.
Assistant Superintendent Ray Gadd said the reason it took so long to bring the lease to the board is some of the issues related to the Schrader Elementary construction project were being worked out.
Although Dayspring Academy is the only charter school that has a $1-a-year lease with the school district, the deal is not unique, Gadd said. The district leases an old school building in Elfers to the county government for $1 a year. Also, the district owns a plot of land in the Oakstead development in Land O' Lakes that it leases for $1 to the Oakstead community development district.