Given that backdrop, some parents at one of the most popular magnet schools in Manatee County, Fla., say it’s obvious why they want to convert the district school into an independent charter.
They’re worried Rowlett Elementary will lose the special programs and dedicated teachers that made it so successful. And they don’t believe district leaders, mired in a budget crisis that promises drastic cuts, know what they’re doing.
Asked if she had doubts that district administrators could keep Rowlett a top performing school and properly run the district, parent Jessica Nehrboss said this: “Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind. I have no doubt in my mind and it’s more apparent than ever that they can’t. The county has absolutely proven they cannot handle it.’’
Nehrboss is a mother of four with a fourth-grader at the school and a rising kindergartner. She and other parents will be voting next month on whether to convert Rowlett. Teachers will also be voting. If a majority of each group says yes, the school will apply to the district for a charter.
If Nehrboss’ assessment sounds harsh, consider this: The 44,000-student district is under a spending freeze that has at least one middle school principal so desperate, he is asking parents for donations to make it through the end of the school year. Meanwhile, the proposal to eliminate 182 teaching positions next fall has prompted a petition from a parent who doesn’t believe the district’s projections are accurate.
Distrust reached a new high last week, when district administrators arrived at Rowlett.
Nehrboss thought she was going to hear about a plan to fix the district’s budget. But about an hour before the public meeting, she and other parents got an automated phone call from the district that said administrators wanted to talk about the school’s charter proposal and the challenges of a conversion.
The topic was part of the agenda all along, a district spokeswoman said. But Nehrboss said she was surprised and felt the meeting was an underhanded attempt to scare parents and teachers.
In her view, the opposite happened. “I have not talked to one single parent who went to that meeting who left there feeling discouraged,’’ she said. “Even now, more than ever, they are on board with the charter conversion.’’
So is Nehrboss. She said that after listening to district leaders and a charter school supervisor from nearby Polk County, she was left wondering, “Why are they fighting us so hard?’’
“I have made up my mind to support the conversion 100 percent,’’ Nehrboss said. “I’m already setting my money aside to make a donation to the school next year.’’
If the proposal is approved, Rowlett will become the first charter school conversion in the district and the 21st such school in Florida. The votes will be counted June 10 during a public school district meeting.
If they succeed, parents and school officials involved with the charter will have to formerly apply to the district. That means having a financial plan, budget, operating officers and curriculum plan in place. Nehrboss said organizers were set to meet this week to discuss the process with parents.
If the district approves the application, the new charter school could be up and running by fall 2014.