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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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More classrooms for MacDill

Access to good schools is a major worry for military families, who must move frequently.

Hillsborough School Board officials should ease that anxiety for MacDill Air Force Base families when they consider a proposal for a new charter school at the base.

A private company has proposed a kindergarten-through-eighth grade charter school for MacDill Air Force Base.

There is no middle school at MacDill now, and the on-base Tinker Elementary is near capacity.

So there looks to be a need for a new facility.

Hillsborough School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia believes the district could address the base’s needs better than the for-profit firm, and that may be so.

But what’s most important is that the needs of MacDill’s families be promptly met.

There should be no dawdling about expanding the base’s education infrastructure.

As Col. Scott DeThomas, the base commander says, the two things that are keenly important to our nation’s defenders are “a safe place for their families and good schools for their children.”

Indeed, superior education facilities serve as “recruiting tools” and enhance the reputation of a military installation.

The ordeal of frequently having to move to a new school — DeThomas says his son has gone to six schools in eight years — can be eased by an on-base school, where most students have similar experiences.

Though there may be some cuts in base employees in future years, DeThomas sees no lessening of the need for more education facilities, which would serve families living on base and those who bring children to school when they come to work.

The charter school plan calls for an after-school program.

Charter Schools USA is behind the proposal, and MacDill’s housing developer would provide the land.

Charter Schools USA already operates three Hillsborough schools, with mixed results. Under the Florida Department of Education’s grading system, one school received a B, another a C and a school in a low-income area received an F.

Elia says the district may be able to serve the base by expanding Tinker, and perhaps making it a kindergarten-eighth grade school.

Elia says the district has been attentive to the military — for example, providing extra liaisons for base students at Robinson High School, which is in MacDill’s district.

The lack of construction funds would be a concern for the district. But Elia says an arrangement might be made similar to a charter, where a developer builds the school and the district is contracted to run it.

Such options deserve scrutiny by the base and the district.

All things being equal, we would prefer the school system to bolster its service to MacDill, an invaluable community asset.

But if it’s found the charter project can more readily respond to MacDill families’ needs, the school district should not stand in the way.

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