School Choice & Charters

Fla. City Eyes More Charters

October 31, 2006 2 min read
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Officials in Pembroke Pines, Fla., are contemplating an effort to convert 13 Broward County public schools into charters run by the city.

City commissioners voted last month in favor of studying the matter, and will be ready by March to vote on whether to move forward with the proposal to expand their charter school portfolio.

The city already operates seven charter schools, serving some 5,000 students. Those schools have consistently earned high rankings under the state’s accountability system and gained the city national notice for its venture into education. (“Using Charter Powers, Booming Fla. City Opts to Build Own Schools,” Sept. 24, 2003.)

City Manager Charles F. Dodge argues that the charters have been getting financially shortchanged by the 270,000-student Broward County district, which has a total of 48 charter schools. He also says the district has failed to deal with overcrowding in its regular public schools in Pembroke Pines.

The charter schools have long waiting lists, according to Mr. Dodge. “That tells you something about what we’re doing,” he said last week in an interview.

For any of the 13 regular public schools to convert to charter status, at least half the parents and half the faculty members at the school would have to vote in favor.

Mr. Dodge says the city’s charters receive about $6,300 per student. But when he does the math for the Broward district’s overall budget, the total per pupil in regular schools comes out to about twice that level, he contends.

“We’re saying, ‘Where is all this money going?’ ” he said. “What can be done better to put more money back in the classroom?”

“Conversion” charters would be in a stronger position financially, Mr. Dodge said, because unlike with the seven “start-up” charters the city operates, the Broward County system would be responsible for providing facilities and maintenance.

“If we didn’t have debt service, we would have $6 million to enhance programming in our [existing charter] schools,” he said.

Broward County school officials could not be reached for comment.

But school board member Marty Rubinstein recently told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper that the charter proposal might jeopardize district plans to build a new school in Pembroke Pines to relieve overcrowding. “Why in the world would I as a school board member want to build them a high school that they’re going to convert into a charter school?” he told the newspaper.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week

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