By Debbie Carson, Online Editor
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Indian River County School Board voted 3-2 to deny Imagine Schools at South Vero’s application to expand to include the seventh and eighth grades.
The board cited concerns about how the school would be governed, issues with the school’s financial strength and the possible lack of diversity among the student population.
More than 100 parents, teachers and students from Imagine Schools at South Vero turned out to the meeting, which was relocated to the Board of County Commissioners board room in anticipation of the large crowd.
A dozen supporters spoke on behalf of the school’s expansion plan, while three others asked the school board to oppose it.
During the nearly 1 1/2-hour long discussion, members in the audience could be heard whispering, “You lie!” and scoffing at School District staff member’s responses to board questions. At one point someone in the audience yawned loud enough to temporarily interrupt the board’s attorney who was explaining in great detail the issue of Imagine School’s parent company’s land buying and leasing methods that cause him concern.
After the final audience member spoke in favor of the school, the crowd rose in a standing ovation clapping and cheering.
Supporters of the proposed expansion reminded the school board that the district serves all students – those in traditional schools and those in charter schools.
“We do serve all types of students,” said a fifth grade teacher at the charter school, adding that they have autistic students, students with learning disabilities, physical limitations and those on free and reduced lunch plans.
“We are a school in this county,” the teacher said.
The school opened in 2008 as a K-5 elementary and grew this year with the addition of a sixth grade. It has about 600 students and was expected to grow to about 800 if the seventh and eighth grades were added.
Just before the vote, it appeared the members were split 2-2 over the expansion application. Board chairwoman Carol Johnson was the last to cast a vote, siding with MacKay and Jimenez to support Superintendent La Cava’s recommendation to deny it.
In explaining her reason, Johnson said that she has a fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers and that $800,000 a year is going out of the district because parents are sending their children to Imagine Schools at South Vero.
Johnson also reminded the board and the audience that the school board had originally voted against Imagine Schools at South Vero’s charter application when it was first presented – twice. It took a lawsuit and the Department of Education to force the Indian River County School District to allow the school to open.
Board member Karen Disney-Brombach, who voted in support of the school’s application, said that she, too, had concerns about the application but thought the school and the district could resolve them.
“This isn’t about money,” Disney-Brombach said of how she reached her decision – it’s about providing options for parents and students. Students, she said, have found success at Imagine Schools at South Vero and that success should be honored.
Imagine Schools now has the option to either continue operating as a K-6 charter and drop its plans for expansion or file suit against the district as it did once before and hope the Department of Education will again find in the charter’s favor.
As the school’s supporters filed out of the chambers after the 3-2 vote, some could be heard murmuring about going before the state’s education department.