Gerard Robinson Sets Himself Up As the Heavy in Denying Polk County its Own Charter Schools


Florida’s education commissioner Gerard Robinson explained to Polk’s superintendent Sherrie Nickell that there seems to be something “coloring the decision” in the delay in granting the OK for the Polk County School Board from going forward on it plans to open charter schools for at-risk students. Robinson’s shadowy admission became more clear today. From another Merissa Green report in the Lakeland Ledger:

BARTOW | Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said he doesn’t have enough information to make a decision on whether to allow the Polk County School District to open its at-risk charter schools.

Robinson became involved in the matter after Superintendent of Schools Sherrie Nickell asked him during his Monday visit to Polk County what was causing the delay.

Nickell said the seven proposed schools have not received school identification numbers to start recruiting students and to hire staff, and the district has been waiting since February for the designation. After looking into the issue, Robinson said he has questions of his own.

Among his staff’s concerns is the need to see the level of interest from parents and potential teachers. Charter schools typically are driven by parental choice, he said Thursday during an interview with The Ledger.

Charter schools in Florida receive identification numbers after “seeing if there’s parent interest or educator interest by hosting information sessions,” he said. “While I’m not saying the ID doesn’t help the process, the absence doesn’t stall gathering parent, teacher and student support.”

In addition to understanding the interest, Robinson called the School Board’s approving its own application for the seven charter schools a “unique situation.”

“As a result of that, we want to make sure we understand what they are trying to accomplish and what is their intent,” he said.

After further review of documents associated with the district’s request, Robinson said he hopes to have a resolution.

A “unique situation,” huh?

The Okaloosa County School Board is going forward with its own STEM Academy with far less certainty in numbers than Polk has. Countless privately owned charter schools which serve the interests of at-risk students which follow the same model as Polk is proposing already exist. There’s obviously questions about Robinson’s authority in the matter. Writes Green:

The delay has prompted a recommendation from School Board lawyer Wes Bridges to request public records from the Education Department. Some board members proposed suing the state agency

Robinson is in a clear hypocrisy trap, too.

(District Senior Director of Magnets, Choice and Charter) Carolyn Bridges said the district never has had to provide that sort of information on any other charter application. New Beginnings High School, an at-risk charter school in Winter Haven that operates independently from the School District, opened its doors last year without such requests.

School Board member Frank O’Reilly said the problem is the local legislators are not involved with the process.

“I think what is happening here is we are not getting their support,” O’Reilly said. “It’s very obvious what’s happening here, but it’s not coming from DOE. It’s coming from someone else, saying, ‘Do whatever you have to do to stop it.'”

Prior to becoming Virginia’s education chief (the job he held fo just over a year before taking his Florida post) Robinson held numerous positions in the charter school advocacy industry. Is he just doing the same thing now in a more powerful position? Lobbyists like him don’t suddenly become more fair-minded to what he’s spent an entire career opposing. The growing for-profit charter school industry can’t have a public school district duplicating a model they want to be the sole beneficiary of as a government contract. Robinson’s just the man, in just the position to squash it.

Robinson’s four-corner stall brings up another issue that puts his boss, Governor Rick Scott, in a bind with his key constituency of tea party supporters. The tea party favors local control of schools and bristle at state and federal meddling and bureaucracies. Wrote Citrus County school board member Pat Deutschman earlier this month:

So the question to you, the voters and the taxpayers, is this: Who do you ultimately trust to make the decisions that impact our public schools? Is it the locally elected boards and superintendents who will meet with you face to face, answer your questions, talk with you in the grocery store, lose sleep over our students and be willingly accountable for student performance — or the corporations, big-money contributors and political appointees who may never have stepped foot in a classroom and don’t answer to you?

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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