Parent: Charter school conversion idea sparked by frustration with school district

The former superintendent abruptly resigned amidst a budget shortfall. The new superintendent came under fire immediately for alleged plagiarism. Now teacher positions are being cut.

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.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.



This is offensive to me-an employee of the district! Not the charter school part-do what you want! The comment by the parent who says teachers can’t do it because the district can’t. Have you learned NOTHING about educators!!! We do it DESPITE situations like this! And, on top of that, you are looking to a Jeb Bush organization to find support-really! He is single handedly killing education-public and charter-by simply not letting go of this state and bringing his insane plans to completion! Why??? To put cash in his pockets! Educate yourself on what he is doing! Educate yourself on the truth of what is happening in this state! Educate yourself on Manatee County-what is going on is a POSITIVE change-Mr. Mills will save our district!

Attacking a parent is not helping your plight. You are clearly aware of the political games that exist in education but, an average parent is not aware of the game. This parent is motivated by her love for her children and school as most of the parents are and should be. A conversion charter school does not put cash in anyone’s pocket it empowers parents and teachers. Teachers are in the lead and welcome to have the local union represent them. Yes, this is an unknown to many but this school has explored all aspects and is moving forward and a yes outcome is likely. As far as Mr. Mills being the savior of Manatee County you may need to educate yourself because he is just as bad as the rest of them and there are a few board members backing him that need to go as well. Look at what Mills is doing. He’s making his job easier and offering higher pay to “attract” higher quality employees. Since, you are a teacher and poorly paid in Manatee look at where he places value on your quality. This should not be an us against them mentality and this mom is a wonderful and compassionate person who does not deserve to me chastised and holds many of the same beliefs as you do but loves her children enough to know that this is the only hope for her children.

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