Are Florida Legislators Involved in Stalling Polk County’s At-Risk Charter Schools?


In what could turn out to be a bombshell story on Florida’s political battle over charter schools, Lakeland Ledger reporter Merissa Green writes that powerful Florida legislators may be stalling Polk counties desire to open its own charter schools to serve at-risk kids. Their reason is to get the business for one of their for-profit cronies:

BARTOW | Polk County School Board members were told this week there may be ulterior motives for the delay in permission to start the District’s at-risk charter schools.

Superintendent of Schools Sherrie Nickell said she was told by Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson there seems to be something “coloring the decision.”

Robinson was in Polk County on Monday to speak at the Tiger Bay of Polk County luncheon and at a Lakeland Chamber of Commerce forum at City Hall.

Although the proposed schools are similar to what for-profit charter companies can get approved with no problems, Robinson said the process is different for other entities, such as school districts, according to Nickell.

“We need to find out what more is out there that is unknown,” Nickell told School Board members Tuesday. “All we’re asking for is give us the rules, and we’ll play the game. Give us a level playing field, and we can compete.”

Robinson told The Ledger on Wednesday he is still reviewing the requests and is likely to have a decision soon.

Some School Board members said the Polk County School District should threaten to sue DOE and the School Board’s attorney recommended filing a public records request to find out what is happening behind the scenes.

Polk officials have been waiting since February to get school identification numbers for its six Step Up Academies. Without those, the district can’t hire staff nor enroll students.

As a result, the district has delayed opening the academies until January. The move will require School Board approval at a later date.

“If this was a for-profit entity coming into Polk County to do the same thing we are trying to do for our students, this would’ve been smooth sailing and rubber stamped from ground zero,” said School Board member Dick Mullenax. “Enough is enough. I’m for going ahead and litigating. Talking has gotten us nowhere.”

A public records request may “modify the conduct” of DOE and find out if there’s been involvement from local legislators, said School Board lawyer Wes Bridges.

Oh, my.

Robinson’s “something is coloring the issue” admission to Polk’s superintendent is a clear signal he’s receiving pressure from somebody. Who? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a local legislator doing the bidding of a charter school operator as several charter schools have multiple buildings. Could it be pressure from the State Board of Education who have demonstrated themselves to be charter school cheerleaders? Or maybe its the model. Someone doesn’t want a public school district to show that they can use the charter school model successfully as it would doom the entire privatization game plan.

But one local pol has weighed in.

State Rep. Kelli Stargel, who is a member of the House Education Committee, told The Ledger in June that although taking struggling students out of the regular student population would probably increase the schools’ grades from the state, she worries about the oversight of the Step Up Academies.

The student population proposed for each of these charters would be too small to meet the criteria to receive a state school grade. Stargel, R-Lakeland, said there are better ways of serving that student population, including setting up career academies instead of charter schools.

Stargel doesn’t know what the hell she is talking about. All publicly funded schools fall under the oversight of local school boards. Is Stargel part of the cabal trying to eliminate school boards? Her statement was  delivered as if school boards don’t even exist. A district’s own charter school would actually have MORE oversight. Stargell’s assertion that career academies are a viable option is fair, but the policies she’s been supporting as a legislator have been bleeding funding from career and vo-tech schools they once enjoyed.

Still, its doubtful that Stargell alone would have the juice to stall the Polk initiative. There’s more there, there.

 

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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