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Published in Print: March 20, 2002, as Fla. Parents May Take Over Pensacola 'Voucher' School

Fla. Parents May Take Over Pensacola 'Voucher' School

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Three years after becoming a national symbol of a high-stakes approach to school choice, a Florida elementary school slated for closing is poised to be turned over to community members who want to run it as a charter school.

After voting in January to close A.A. Dixon Elementary School in Pensacola, the Escambia County school board voted March 4 to lease the building for $1 a year to parents and community members who want to convert the site into a charter school.

The only catch to the deal could come from one board member who has said that he may ask the board to vote again on the closure, before a lease is signed.

Dixon found itself in the national spotlight in 1999, when its students and those at another Pensacola school labeled as "failing" under Florida's accountability system became eligible for state-financed vouchers to attend private schools.

Although Dixon's test scores improved after that first year, and the school was taken off the failing list, its enrollment has declined more than 25 percent since then. The shrinking enrollment, coupled with a budget crisis, prompted the district board to close the school to cut costs. ("Board to Close Fla. 'Voucher' School," Feb. 6, 2002.)

Still, the 330-student school has its supporters. Dixon Elementary parents and community activists have rallied to the school's defense in recent months. They have pleaded with board members to find a way to keep the school open.

Moving Forward

When it became clear that there was little hope to save the site as a regular public school, parents lobbied to convert Dixon to an independent public charter school.

They were elated to get their wish.

"We are tired of the roller-coaster," said Nicole Brandon, the president of the Dixon PTA. "We are looking forward to moving forward and making this [charter] a success."

It's not clear yet how the new school will be organized, but parents already are in talks with a local charter school operator.

Even as Dixon Elementary's fate as a regular public school appears sealed, however, the school board member who represents the community in which Dixon is located has voiced second thoughts about his closure vote.

Elmer Jenkins voted against reconsidering the closing at the March 4 meeting, but he said in an interview last week that he "has some regrets" about his stance. He said he had "received so much heat" that he was "willing to look at it again if I made a mistake."

Mr. Jenkins, a 15-year board veteran, said he voted against reconsidering the closure because he was afraid that if the board didn't vote to close the school this year, the school would be subjected to additional uncertainty next year. As of late last week, he had not decided whether he would attempt to reopen the issue with the board.

Vol. 21, Issue 27, Page 3

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