TAMPA, Fla. - Four Hillsborough County charter schools that faced potential closure are now off the chopping block. Within a couple of hours of an emergency school board meeting, members voted to reverse course in their decision of not renewing their contracts after the state threatened to withhold funding.
According to the board's attorney, the state could have withheld up to $950 million if they didn't renew the schools' contracts. Ultimately, the school board voted 6-1 Tuesday morning.
In June, Hillsborough School Board members voted not to renew the contracts of Kid’s Community College, Pivot, SouthShore, and Woodmont charter schools due to, what members said, was a failure by the schools to meet several state and federal guidelines. They cited poor academic performance and financial issues.
Then, the state stepped in.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the decision violated state law because schools weren't given 90 days' notice. The district disagreed.
Last week, Corcoran issued an ultimatum: reverse the decision or risk the state withholding funding. Commissioner Corcoran gave Hillsborough Board members 10 days to remedy what he calls a violation of state law.
According to the decision agreed during Tuesday'smeeting, the four charter schools will be given a corrective action plan and must report back to the school board. Board chair Lynn Gray said, at this point, the district's hands were tied.
"What choices did we have? It is was hard just to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to step back,'" she said following the vote. "Just like everyone here, when you believe in something and you have credible evidence, it's like against the grain of ethics to have to go back and just do not what we said."
In the weeks and days leading up to the emergency meeting, Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis though says his district’s board has given the schools their due 90-day notice – which is required by state statute -- explaining the clock started from the date of the board’s vote. Then, the standoff between state officials and the board developed.
"The board has the right to look at it through a different lens and they create their accountability," Davis told state board of education members during a meeting at St. Petersburg College last week.
At the time, Commissioner Corcoran said the only path forward is for the district to change course.
"It should never get to that point. It’s never gotten to that point in the history of our state in the modern era. Why is it getting to this point now? It’s just lawlessness," Corcoran said.
Advocates for charter and public schools also jumped into the controversy. Some accused the state of overstepping its authority in order to protect failing charter schools.
"School boards should have local control. These schools were in violation and they knew they're in violation and they've gotten away with it," said public school advocate Pat Hall.
Others argue the charter schools on the chopping block weren't being treated fairly and weren't been given time to address school board concerns. The majority of those who defended the four schools urged the board to renew the contracts because the futures of more than 2,000 students were on the line.