More and more charter school applications found lacking

From the Orlando Sentinel School Zone

The final round of charter school applications is coming before the School Board next Tuesday, and district staffers apparently found the last four as lacking as previous groups of applications.

Staffers recommended rejecting three of the four proposals, while suggesting approval of the fourth “with reservation.”

Management company Academica applied to open Pinecrest Creek Academy in Orange County as a replication of a successful charter school in another county. As a replication, the application follows different rules.

But because Academica’s only other school in the county, a combined K-8 and high school called Pinecrest Preparatory Charter School, has struggled, district staff recommended approving the new school “with reservation.”

The existing Pinecrest school has not met enrollment projections, has performed poorly on state tests and has faced problems with student records and immunizations. The new school would have the same governing board. ”The Florida Statutes provide no means to address these concerns regarding this application,” the staff report says.

The other two remaining Academica applications were recommended for rejection. Somerset Virtual Academy K-5 and 6-12 would be nearly identical to, though less rigorous than, the district’s own online offerings, the staff report said. Also, it noted that the same management company had already withdrawn another application with the same shortcomings. It’s unclear why they proceeded with these.

The remaining application pegged for rejection was an expansion plan by the group that runs Aloma, Chancery and Sheeler charter high schools. The three Orange County schools offer online-based credit recovery courses to dropouts and at-risk students. The staff evaluation said the lack of success of the existing schools (which have either not tested enough students to get a grade or earned Fs) should count against them.

District staff was also concerned that the management company, Accelerated Learning Solutions, would have full control over staffing, evaluation and funding instead of the schools’ board. There were also problems with the financial plans for the school. This company has lobbied the board aggressively in the past, largely in a successful attempt to change the schools’ accountability standards to an ungraded system, and they’re likely to speak Tuesday to rebut the staff report.

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