Florida magnet school teachers and parents vote to go charter

Nearly every teacher and parent at a popular magnet school in Bradenton, Fla., has voted in favor of turning the district school into a charter school.

rowlette magnetRowlett Magnet Elementary Principal Brian Flynn announced the final tally Monday evening during a public meeting at the Manatee County school, noting 94 percent of his instruction staff and 95 percent of parents turned in Yes ballots.

“So that’s pretty overwhelming support,” he said, but “we have more work to do.” That includes developing a financial plan, naming an independent school board and putting together a “solid” charter application that is due to the district by Aug. 1.

The move follows months of turmoil in the school district, where a $38 million budget shortfall has resulted in state intervention and a reorganization plan that has brought a districtwide spending freeze, program cuts and threats of layoffs. It got so bad recently at one local middle school, the principal sent home letters to parents asking for donations to make it through the final weeks of the school year.

Rowlett administrators, teachers and parents decided that rather than lose their special art and communications classes, and devoted teachers, they would attempt a charter conversion.

“It’s not the direction I thought we would be going in after 13 years,” said Flynn, a 34-year district employee who has led the school since it opened in 2000. “It’s not about wanting to leave the district. We wanted to be able to continue the type of programs that we have always offered.”

The district will have to review the application. If approved, Rowlett could open as a charter school – the first conversion charter in Manatee and the 21st such school in Florida – in the 2014-15 school year.

For parent Erin Novarro, who has a rising second-grader and fourth-grader at Rowlett and enrolled them in the school because of the special programs, going charter is the right decision. It’s the only way, she said, “to keep Rowlett Rowlett.”

Every one of the 61 teachers eligible to vote on the conversion cast a ballot, Flynn said. The final count was 57-4. Of the 645 families eligible to vote, 506 did so with 480 voting yes.

Editor’s note: School officials discovered four more ballots that were mailed in, changing the total number of votes for parents from 502 to 506 and the total yes votes from 477 to 480, said Assistant Principal Kim Penman. We updated our story to reflect the new numbers.

Avatar photo

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.