Contracts for 4 Hillsborough charter schools were not renewed; district must explain why, state says

In a letter sent to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran Tuesday, the Hillsborough County School district didn't back down from its decision to not renew the contracts of four charter schools.

The letter from the board was in response to Corcoran demanding an explanation from the district regarding its vote to end the contracts of SouthShore, Kids Community College High, Pivot and Woodmont Charter Schools. The commissioner wrote last week that the board may have violated state law by not giving the schools a 90-day notice of non-renewal and threatened to withhold funds.

In response, the district wrote that when the board voted June 15 to not renew the contracts, "these votes constituted the initiation of the statutory ninety (90) day notice to the school of the School Board's intent to not renew the respective charters."

The board went on to write, in part:

"It is important to note that the schools whose charters the School Board intends to non-renew will not be closed during the ninety (90) day notice period and during the pendency of any appeals the schools may pursue. If the District is ultimately successful in defending any appeals, we commit to ensuring a smooth transition for the families and students...

"The charter contracts of each of the subject schools provide that notice of non-renewal is to be provided at least ninety (90) days before such action. The subject charters do not specifically provide that the non-renewal notice must be provided by a set deadline...the School Board is in complete compliance with the charter contract as well as state law."

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The board found that issues and flaws varied at the four schools, ranging from poor grades to a failure to meet local and federal educations standards for students with disabilities or students who speak English as a second language.

The conflict between the district and Corcoran parallels the conflict between advocates for public and charter schools, many of whom pleaded their cases to the board during the board's meeting Tuesday.

"The charter movement is just overtaking the public school system," said Pat Hall, a public school advocate. "The kids are not getting a better education at charters. They're getting a different education. And it's like a parallel system to the public school. All public schools are not great. All charters are not great. We have some great charters and we have some great public schools. But the children do not get the same services at the charter schools."

"For Tallahassee to come in with a letter basically threatening our school funding, I think it was a little out of line and heavy-handed," added James Castano.

SouthShore's principal, Amy Sams, meanwhile, urged the board to reconsider.

"Tonight and throughout this process, just thinking about how the school board is not listening to the parents who do know what is best for their own children really breaks my heart as a parent myself," she told FOX 13. "[SouthShore families] are struggling, but they're standing by our side."

Superintendent Addison Davis declined to comment Tuesday with the district now preparing to potentially have to defend itself in court.