Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board the district is facing a “squeeze” when it comes to money for facilities maintenance because of a lack of funding from the state.

LAND O’ LAKES – The Pasco County School Board gave unanimous approval May 7 to three new charter schools, but the superintendent and board chairperson emphasized their displeasure over the state’s preference for charters over public schools in their latest round of capital outlay funding.

Board Chairman Alison Crumbley said the lack of capital outlay for the district’s public schools is “mindboggling” and has her struggling to contain her anger over the situation.

The three charter schools the School Board approved are Innovation Preparatory Academy 1, Innovation Preparatory Academy 2, and R.I.S.E.

Innovation Academy 1 will be in Connected City in the Wesley Chapel-San Antonio area.

It proposes to open in the 2020-21 school year with 615 students in grades K-6, with an expansion to 765 for grades K-8 planned for 2024-25.

The location of Innovation Academy 2 was not identified in the proposal but has a growth outline similar to Innovation Academy 1.

R.I.S.E. charter school is planned for the southeast corner of Wynfields Boulevard and S.R. 56, in the Wesley Chapel area.

The school, which has a planned opening for the 2020-21 school year, is described as providing a “STEM-based education with project-based learning focused on ‘Renewable Industries for Sustainable Energy’ and to prepare students to enter ‘STEM-centered careers with an emphasis in the field of renewable and sustainable energy.’ ”

The school’s first year would have an enrollment of 800 students in grades 6 through 9, then expand in 2024-25 to 1,500 students in grades 6-12.

Before the School Board took the action to approve, Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning addressed the funding situation during his report to the board. He noted these new laws happened just within the last week of the 2019 legislative session “just as everything you don’t want to happen.”

Browning, a former Florida secretary of state, was speaking of the way the Legislature has changed how schools will get money from the Florida Department of Education’s Public Education Capital Outlay Trust Fund.

“Public schools got zero dollars and charter schools got $153 million,” Browning said. “I will tell you that the lack of PECO dollars is going to put a squeeze on us when it comes to maintaining our facilities because that is by and large where we are getting our maintenance dollars.”

The superintendent said he was not opposed to charter schools or school choice.

“If I were, we wouldn’t have the choice programs we have in this district,” Browning said. “But, there is nothing fair about receiving no PECO money when there are districts relying on PECO dollars for maintenance purposes.”

Before the three charter schools were given the green light, Board member Cynthia Armstrong asked for the three items be taken off the board’s consent agenda for discussion.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin expressed her support for approving the three schools and charter schools in general; however, she did express some items of concern she held about the charters.

“We have some very good charter schools in our district and, in general, I do support school choice and I support charter schools,” Beaudoin said. “But, I do have some reservations I want to share with the public.”

Under state law, she said, school boards do not have the same oversight authority over charter schools as they do over district schools.

“Traditional public school boards are elected by the public and by that virtue, they are held to a much higher standard of transparency,” Beaudoin said. “We cannot tailor the contracts to the specific needs of the community that might be served by any individual charter school.”

Beaudoin said she hoped the three new charters “are going to fulfill the original intent of charter schools.”

“I hope they are going to be innovative and use creative programming,” she said. “I am looking forward to following their progress in those areas.”

Board member Megan Harding also expressed support but noted that in the application of the R.I.S.E. school, there were a “couple of the standards that were partially met.”

“I do want you to know I will be following up and would love to visit and see the progress they are making so we can fully meet those standards. There were a few on there that [concerned me],” Harding said. “I hope they will be innovative and meet the needs of all of our students.”

Board Chairman Alison Crumbley said there were nine of 22 standards that were partially met.

“We will just make sure those are met,” Crumbley said, “And, we are really hoping these schools have local board members.”

She added most successful charter schools have members that are “committed to the community and listen to the parents that know the local things going on.”

Crumbley then echoed the comments made by Browning on the state’s capital outlay plans.

“It’s mind-boggling we get zero and the charters get $155 million,” she said, “I am trying not to be angry because anger drives out reason. But, it’s very hard not to be.”