Through the fall, school boards across Florida have faced a dilemma: approve every charter school application or face a battle with the state on appeal. Seminole County is one of the districts that have "embraced the fight", filing a suit against the state Board of Education and rejecting applicants, writes Lauren Roth at the Orlando Sentinel.
Seminole schools has asked a judge to clarify parts of an untested new law that allows "high-performing charter school systems" to replicate their programs in other school districts, seemingly giving local school boards minimal rights to reject such applications.
"It totally takes away the board's absolute authority to decide who opens a school in the district," said Darvin Boothe, who lobbied the Legislature for Seminole schools.
Seminole issued the suit earlier in December, and it contends that the law doesn't define what it means to "substantially replicate" a school.
In Orange County last week, the school board at first rejected an application to open an elementary school called Pinecrest Creek Academy, a replication of an A-rated Miami-Dade elementary school called Pinecrest Academy South Campus, by a 4-3 vote.
Many members were concerned that the new school would have the same management as the struggling Pinecrest Preparatory Charter School in Orange County.
"State law be damned, I'm not going to vote to add another school to a charter that very well may be in distress," board chairman Bill Sublette said before the vote.
Pinecrest had some of the lowest third-grade reading scores in the state in the spring, and failed to meet enrollment projections.
However, the board had second thoughts after school board attorney Woody Rodriguez warned each board member to provide specifics about why they rejected the Pinecrest Creek application in preparation of an appeal.
"In my opinion, we lose," said John Palmerini, another school board attorney.
On a second vote, the board approved the application 5-2.
The Seminole suit, filed by Tallahassee attorney Harry O. Thomas, fundamentally questions the part of the law that limits local school boards role in the appeal process.
That new appeal process will apply only to the schools in Seminole and Polk, as well as one in Brevard, this year, writes Roth.