By: Sharon Aron Baron
Like the great California Gold Rush in the 19th Century, charter school operators are flocking to cities in South Florida hoping to strike it big by hoodwinking innocent families with slick brochures while taking advantage of lax application requirements to open their doors.
Sadly, many charter schools want Tamarac to be their next home; however, the track records of these school operators keeps getting worse.
This past summer, a drop-out prevention high school managed by Newpoint Education Partners asked the city for a special exception to open on McNab Road. The same company managed this charter school as the Magnolia Academy for the Arts and Magnolia Academy for the Arts and Technology which closed just weeks ago leaving over 200 students stranded, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
The Magnolia schools were designed to offer students an education in the arts featuring the latest technology. Using glossy brochures, the schools attempted to attract students throughout Broward. One parent told the Sun-Sentinel that school officials promised to provide iPads, laptops, and other high-tech equipment.
David Stiles, vice president of operations for the school’s management company, didn’t return calls to the Sun-Sentinel, and coincidentally, didn’t return our calls even when he asked the public to call him with questions back in June.
Fortunately, the commission said “no” to Newpoint and their drop-out prevention school. But weeks later, another charter school called CHAMPS, was appearing before them asking for a special exception to open at the former site of the Kathleen C. Wright Leadership Academy on Prospect Road, which was closed by the State last year after the school received two F grades in a row.
Even with a stricter ordinance after Newpoint was denied, the commission became the advisory board, discovering on the dais that weeks ago, CHAMPS had just closed two charter schools in Palm Beach County leaving parents scrambling to find other options.
The president of CHAMPS charter schools says the school missed a deadline by minutes and was not able to get funding from the Palm Beach County School District. He also said private investors backed out and there was not enough money to run the school.
Despite this information, the commission approved the special exception; however, passed it on the condition that they cannot open unless they have enrolled at least 150 students by July 15, 2015.
Charter schools are big business. They are public schools that receive state tax dollars, but function with their boards of directors, and enjoy substantial independence from state and local regulations.
Surrounding cities such as Sunrise, Coral Springs, Parkland and Lauderhill have Educational Advisory Boards made up of educators or former educators who have first-hand knowledge about schools, and besides acting as a liaison between our city and our schools, they can advise the commission before they vote.
Tamarac has an Art Committee, but no Educational Advisory Board.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, City Manager Michael Cernech said,” We do not evaluate them [charter schools] based on the revenue they bring to the city. It is not for me to judge if a charter school is good or bad.”
Then who is looking out for our parents?
We need a committee of citizens to judge whether a school is good or bad for our residents and their children before they open shop in our city.
As part of tightening their codes, the city will only consider special-exception petitions only if they operate out of a free-standing single-use structure that is situated in a lot that is not less than three acres in size along with a dedicated drop-off area. This means no more strip-center charter schools like Pivot located at 8129 N. Pine Island Rd.
Despite a tougher code, what does our city commission know about education? What does the ordinance say about a school’s record of closures?
As long as the Planning Board approves the special exception of the charter school, the City Commission must have competent substantial evidence in the record to overturn the decision of the board, or they must vote to move forward.
Why we are leaving the final say the educational needs of our citizens up to members of the Planning Board and the City Commission?
Let’s establish an Education Advisory Board. Now.