School Board, Imagine Schools move forward to negotiate added grades

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Indian River County School Board and Imagine Schools at South Vero are moving forward to negotiate changes to the charter school’s contract that would allow the addition of seventh and eighth grades.

The School Board is scheduled to have a private meeting with its attorney Tuesday afternoon to discuss the negotiations. That meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in the board’s chambers. Imagine Schools received the Florida Board of Education’s blessing earlier this month to expand its campus to include the two upper grades after the county’s School Board denied the application.

The School Board has since decided to work with the charter school, but has retained the option to file an appeal of the Board of Education’s approval. The School Board has until May 8 to file.

At the last School Board meeting, the board voted 3-2 to proceed with negotiations with Imagine Schools. The members plan to take a final vote based on the executive session at the April 27 board meeting. That meeting will be held in the County Commission Chambers.

Board members Debbie MacKay and Claudia Jimenez voted against the negotiations. MacKay expressed concerns that the charter does not do enough to make itself accessible to students and noted the lack of diversity and transportation.

“Transportation is a barrier to some of our students,” she said.

Jimenez told her fellow board members that it was her belief that Imagine Schools’ contract for the sixth grade was only approved because enrollment was capped at 750. She questioned what the enrollment would be if the two upper grades were added.

The charter’s application for the seventh and eighth grades requested an enrollment of 330, which could increase Imagine Schools’ enrollment to 1,080.

School Board Attorney Usher “Larry” Brown was tasked with negotiating the enrollment cap and addressing transportation with Imagine Schools’ attorney, Melissa Gross-Arnold and reporting back at the special meeting Tuesday.

Negotiated enrollment figures are expected to range from 750 to 1,080.

“They really want to work with you,” said Gross-Arnold of the charter’s board. She reminded the School Board that the charter has already agreed to not open both grades at the same time, instead holding off on eighth grade until the following school year.

“They didn’t have to do that,” she said.

Prior to the split vote, Imagine Schools at South Vero Principal Joe Mills thanked the board for the cooperative spirit it has shown.

“Our parents deserve this,” Mills said of being allowed the option to send their kids to a kindergarten through eighth grade school – the only one of its kind in the county if approved.

“I think there’s been give and take on both sides,” School Board member Carol Johnson said prior to the vote. She recommended the board amend Imagine Schools’ current contract rather than creating a separate one for the two grades.

How the School Board would accommodate Imagine Schools’ expansion – if approved – remains unclear. The board could amend the current contract or establish a new contract. That decision could come at the special meeting Tuesday.

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