Charter schools to wait longer for ruling on district funds

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Three charter schools that expect to receive a portion of $2 million from the Indian River County School District will have to wait a bit longer to find out if their anticipated funds are appropriate.

The school board had sent a request for an opinion to the Florida Department of Education and, as of last week’s board meeting, has not yet heard back. The board decided to give the department until the next meeting, March 9, to send its opinion.

At issue is the appropriateness of the School Board allocating $2 million from its budget to the charters for the schools’ construction, maintenance or purchase of equipment.

Board Attorney Larry Brown told the board at the time they approved the funding with a 3-2 vote they should get an opinion from the Department of Education to make sure the funding would be approved. Otherwise, he said, the board members who approved the allocation could face state sanctions.

Board members Claudia Jimenez and Debbie MacKay voted against giving the charter schools the money.

Four charter schools were expected to receive some funds from the district, but St. Peters Academy did not provide the district with its proposal for its share of the funds. Instead, the district received proposals from Indian River Charter High, North County Charter and Sebastian Charter Junior High.

Attorney Brown told the school board last week that he has been in constant contact with the Department of Education’s general counsel office but has not received an opinion yet.

“I can’t make general counsel issue a letter (of opinion) faster,” Brown said.

He added that if the Department of Education does not issue an opinion fast enough for the school board or the board does not like the opinion, the next step would be to take the matter before an Indian River County Circuit Court judge.

Though the district would not actually be suing the charter schools, Brown said, that is exactly how it would look if the district had to file for a hearing in court.

“Going to court is something you could do quickly and is perhaps the most expedient but it’s more intense,” he said, adding, “No matter how much we tell them this is a friendly action, it’s not friendly, you know, to be party defendants.”

Board members supported waiting to hear from the education department before going before a judge for a ruling. The third option the board has is to ask Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum for his opinion.

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