GREEN COVE SPRINGS – While the Clay County School District officially terminated its charter school agreement with Orange Park Performing Arts Academy on Aug. 1, it is too early for district officials to be expecting a budget windfall.
By terminating the contract with the charter school, means the Clay County School District will no longer be paying approximately $1.5 million to the school on Kingsley Avenue to fund 170 students in K-5. In the meantime, a consultant for the former charter school said he would like to reassure parents the school is on track to open Aug. 15 as a private school.
“The charter has been terminated, the school has not closed. The district has no power to close Orange Park Performing Arts Academy, they can terminate their contract. We need to be very clear because at the end of the day, it’s all about the students,” said Chris Norwood, president and founder of the Miami-based Florida Association of Independent Charter Schools Inc.
He said the OPPAA governing board has voted to transition the school to a private school instead of operating as a publicly-funded charter school under state law.
“We expect many of the students to qualify for scholarships through various available resources, whether that be Step Up for Students, the Gardiner Scholarships or Educational Savings Accounts,” Norwood said. “In Florida, we have a robust system of public school options and private school options, both which are funded with public dollars.”
The district was required to close the failing charter school as outlined in the state’s accountability system for charter schools that receive two consecutive “F” school grades, as was the case with OPPAA. On July 17, the Florida Board of Education voted to deny the charter school a waiver from termination due to its school grades after hearing a plea from Norwood on the school’s behalf. In its first year of operation, the school received a “D” followed by “Fs” in 2016 and 2017.
Clay County District Schools is working with families to identify a new option for their children, according to a district news release. In order to minimize the impact on students, the district will assist families in enrolling children in their neighborhood schools in Clay County.
In a special Clay County School Board meeting Tuesday, Susan Legutko, assistant superintendent of business affairs, said the district funds paid to the charter school will be added back to the district’s budget after the contract termination process is completely finalized in the coming months. In the meantime, the school board moved ahead Tuesday and held a state-mandated public hearing regarding the budget as it was first proposed on July 20.
The school board voted 5-0 on Aug. 1 to approve the 2017-18 spending plan that calls for setting the millage at 6.4380, which will generate $71,778,606. Of that total, $46,715,185 is earmarked as Required Local Effort – a total of 4.190 mills – which is required for the district to receive state funding from the Florida Education Finance Program, FEFP. The district’s budget – its total of all funds – will be $386,389,412, of which $213,182,968 is projected to come from FEFP and other state funding sources.
The district was required to close the failing charter school as outlined in the state’s accountability system for charter schools that receive two consecutive “F” school grades, as was the case with OPPAA. On July 17, Norwood attempted to argue that the school had made learning gains that exceeded three other district schools in the area near OPPAA. In its first year of operation, the school received a “D” followed by “Fs” in 2016 and 2017.
“It’s unfortunate what has happened to the charter aspect of this school, but the school has improved from last year to this year, it was 2 percentage points away from a D,” Norwood said.
While he supports school choice and charter schools, Norwood said the way the rules can appear confusing.
“They want schools to run before they can walk,” he said.
Norwood said OPPAA’s learning gains went up 17 points, three times the rate of Montclair Elementary, W.E. Cherry Elementary and Grove Park Elementary. However, that data is part of the rub between the district and OPPAA.
Clay County School Superintendent Addision Davis said at a July 25 agenda-setting workshop, that OPPAA presented information to the district from five students the school believes made the learning gains that would propel the school from an F to a D. However, Davis said, after reviewing the data, it doesn’t add up.
“After our immediate analysis of those five students, the five students had not made the learning gains as they understood,” Davis said.
Now, the district is working with families to provide resources that will allow them to identify a new high-quality option for their children. In order to minimize the impact on students, the district will assist families in enrolling their children in their neighborhood schools within Clay County.
“As a District, we stand ready and prepared to offer the best, high quality educational opportunities for students affected by the closure of OPPAA. Clay County Schools will take immediate action to ensure that all families impacted by this closure are provided with thorough guidance to enroll their children at their neighborhood schools. We are excited about engaging this cohort of learners and educating their families about Clay County’s endless educational possibilities,” Davis said, in a prepared statement Aug. 1.
Parents or guardians who have questions pertaining to their child’s neighborhood school should contact the district office at (904) 336-6500.