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Waldo “Back To Square One” With Charter School Proposal

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The charter school which was aiming to open in Waldo in August 2019 has hit a serious setback recently, as the project director has determined there is little chance for the school to qualify for existing state grants.

The proposed charter school, which in April received the 100 signatures needed to petition the county school board to move forward in its plans, would not have a large enough number of students to successfully apply for state Public Charter School Program (CSP) Grant.

Around 18 grants of approximately $525,000 per grant are offered to “new operators” of charter schools each year, which includes applicants that have opened less than five public charter schools in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Education 2018-2021 CSP Grant Request for Proposal. The charter school would have to provide to the state in its proposal how many students it expects to target and its estimated budget in order to be considered for the grant. The estimated number of students enrolled is critical in the proposal, as too low of a number may cause the school to fail a threshold review to even be considered for the grant.

Neil Drake, Project Director and advisor to the board of One Room School House, said he reviewed current grant application guidelines and concluded the school would not be able to submit a successful application to the state to acquire a grant. About 100 students were estimated to attend, which would average to be about $5,000 dollars per student needed to be spent on only non-recurring expenditures.

“There is no conceivable way to spend that kind of money on equipment and supplies for so few students,” he said. “The state is looking for groups that want to start a school for 500 or more students at a per student cost of $1000 or less.”

Everett Caudle, director of project development for Alachua County Public Schools, said there is little chance for a charter school to open without this grant.

“Almost all charter schools rely on this grant to open,” he said. “I don’t think I have personally dealt with a charter school that has opened without the CSP grant.”

The grant is offered every year in Spring, and the total amount of funding awarded is split into three years. The first year is for planning the school, and the next two years are for implementation. Even if the proposed charter school could get approved for the CSP grant, it would still be years until it could open if it applied to the school board by the deadline in 2019, said Caudle.

“The earliest I would consider it to open would be the 2021-2022 school year,” he said. “They would have to send us a charter by February of 2019 that would be between 70-100 pages covering almost every aspect of the school. There is no way it could open before 2021.”

If the charter school gained approval from the school board, or if denied, through an appeal to the state, it could then be funded every school year by the state based on enrollment.

Jackie Johnson, director of communications and community initiatives for Alachua County Public Schools, said the state looks at how many students are estimated to attend when funding capital expenditures for charter schools.

“They receive per pupil funding from the state based on the state formula,” she said. “The state then gives the funding to the school district, which is then disbursed to the charter schools.”

The charter school would have a tough time with funding after the three years of the CSP are over, however, because of its low estimated enrollment, said Caudle.

“You probably won’t generate enough funding to pay for that school,” he said. “Each student would generate about $6,000 dollars in funding, which is $600,000 to run that school for a whole year, paying for everything. You will start to cut it close.”

Kim Worley, Waldo City Manager, said that the news of the charter school not being able to receive the required funding had taken her by surprise.

“It felt to me like it came out of nowhere,” she said. “Now we are back to square one.”

Drake suggested that the City of Waldo should find a group that is willing to form a smaller private school in Waldo, but Worley thinks it may be tough for some residents to pay for tuitions.

“The problem with a private school in Waldo is that many residents don’t have the income level to support it,” Worley said.

Elementary students in Waldo will have to continue to travel to schools like Shell Elementary School about 16 miles away in Hawthorne, or also potentially Hampton Elementary about 7 miles north of Waldo in Bradford County, if there is room. A recent education bill in Florida allowed students to transfer to any school regardless of the county it is in, starting in the 2017-18 school year.

Ariel Hall, Waldo resident and mother of two children, ages 5 and 6, currently sends her children to a nearby private school.

“They go to a private school because there are really no other options around Waldo,” she said. “I would have definitely considered sending them to the charter school when it opened.”

About John Peterson

John is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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