School Board won’t appeal Imagine Schools expansion

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Indian River County School Board will not appeal the state’s decision to approve Imagine Schools at South Vero’s expansion of seventh and eighth grades. The board discussed moving forward with an amended contract with the charter school Tuesday.

“This is a great thing for our parents,” Imagine Schools Board member Dave Bailey said after the school district’s board approved the contract amendment.

The county School Board is expected to formalize its decision at its next meeting with a vote.

Imagine Schools at South Vero’s Principal Joe Mills said that he is excited by the board’s decision because now the charter school’s parents can make plans this fall for their sixth graders.

School Board Attorney Usher “Larry” Brown brought up one concern in the proposed amendment to Imagine Schools’ contract pertaining to future class size requirements.

Imagine Schools wants the flexibility to follow the state’s established class size rules as they pertain to charters. The School District, on the other hand, wants the charter schools to adhere to the same class size requirements the district’s traditional schools must follow.

“Is that a deal killer for the board?” Brown asked. He explained that currently, charters must follow the same class size rules. However, there is a proposed law that could go into effect next school year that could set different standards for the state’s charters.

Both School Board members Debbie MacKay and Claudia Jimenez expressed concerns that charters should follow the same rules as traditional schools.

Jimenez said it is the district and charters’ responsibility to look out for the best interest of students. Class size is one of those issues, she said, noting that charters could operate with less cost by increasing class sizes and cutting teachers.

“That’s not fair,” MacKay said of allowing one school to operate under different rules. “It’s not level. It should not be acceptable.”

Board members Karen Disney-Brombach, Matt McCain and Carol Johnson did not take issue with the proposed new law that would set different rules for charters.

Brombach told the board that one of the founding principles of charter schools is that the charters are not bound by the same regulations and requirements traditional schools must follow.

Other concerns addressed included transportation and diversity.

Imagine Schools at South Vero will be required under its amended contract to provide both oral and written information about the availability of transportation.

After the meeting, Principal Mills said the school has had for the last two years a transportation agreement with the School District for busing of students. However, in those two years, he has had no parents request transportation.

He said the reason for the lack of parental interest in transportation stems from a healthy carpooling system. Those parents who have had difficulty getting their child to school have arranged for transportation through other parents, Mills said.

As for diversity, MacKay pointed out to her fellow board members that Imagine Schools at South Vero lacks in diversity. She said that the school has single-digit percentages of students on free and reduced lunches, in the Exceptional Student Education program, who are black or are Hispanic.

By comparison, the traditional schools near Imagine Schools have mostly high double-digit percentages in many of the same categories.

“We want diversity,” Mills said after the meeting, but pointed out that the charter school is a matter of parental choice – not zoning districts. He said the school cannot force students to attend.

The school has held a public meeting in Gifford to try to entice students there to attend Imagine Schools, Mills said. He added that they have also sent mailers to homes in the area of the school and distributed fliers to fifth graders at various elementary schools, notifying families of the school’s added sixth grade.

Attorney Brown told the board that Imagine School is essentially following the district’s proposed desegregation plan, but is using a different method of tracking statistics.

The difference between the charter’s plan and the district’s plan did not cause concern for members Brombach, McCain and Johnson.

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