Proposed charter school contracts draw fire from Florida school districts

School districts continue to raise concerns about proposed, statewide uniform charter school contracts that are set to be in place next year.

Three district representatives appeared this week before the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee to share their worries about the contracts, which were mandated by new legislation passed last spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Meanwhile, a published report suggests mounting opposition in some districts.

Mike Grego
Mike Grego

“If charter schools desire to fill a niche or an innovative purpose in a community, we ought to be able to evaluate what that niche is,” said Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego, according to The Tampa Tribune. “A standardized contract does not allow local school boards to do that, which is shortsiding the whole purpose of charter schools, which is to stand out and be different.”

Ruth Melton of the Florida School Boards Association told redefinED it’s still too early in the process to say whether the group opposes the standard contract, but “we are legitimately concerned and these concerns are very real.’’

While the association can appreciate the need to streamline the process, every district is different, Melton said, and every charter school has different needs. It really comes down to whether the agreement can be amended. “If yes, good. They’re on the right path,’’ she said.

But if it means the district or the charter school has to justify their reasons to amend the contract to any outside parties (such as the Florida Board of Education), then the process gets complicated, expensive and, possibly, violates the district’s constitutional right to bargain and negotiate.

“We would not be comfortable with any legislation that violates the constitution,’’ Melton said. “And I don’t think legislators would, either.’’

The idea behind standard contracts, state officials have said, is to streamline the contract process, set a baseline for expectations so both sides have the same starting point, and create an opportunity for more meaningful negotiations. The contract, if approved by lawmakers next spring, will go into effect until next year.

Charter school supporters, who also testified before lawmakers this week, have raised concerns about the new contracts, too. But generally, they support the idea.

A draft contract now on the table took four months to create with input from both charters and districts, said Adam Miller, who oversees school choice at the Florida Department of Education.  While the contract shortens timelines for negotiations, it does not mean changes can’t be made, he said.

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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.