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Education: MCCS one step closer to becoming a charter school

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Madison County Central School (MCCS) could be a large step closer to becoming a charter school if the State of Florida has its way.

This was the news delivered to the Madison County District School Board during their regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The announcement was delivered by School Superintendent, Dr. Karen Pickles and was not welcomed news for the Board Members. “We feel like we have been lied to,” was the feeling of the Board Members. In August, Hershel Lyons, Chancellor of the Florida Division of Public Schools assured teachers and administrators in Madison County that (MCCS) could avoid being forced into becoming a charter school if the school grade improved to at least a “C” by the end of the school year. However, in a message from Lyons sent to Pickles, the District was informed that a new district turn-around plan was being required for MCCS. (The District already had an approved turn-around plan in place for MCCS.) This “Phase I” plan is due by Wednesday, Oct. 18, and includes moving teachers and the formation of a Community Assessment Team. Board Chairman Bart Alford expressed dismay at having to move teachers from one school to another because of the disruptions it will cause for students. That sentiment was echoed among the other Board members. “We should have been told this summer, if that is what they [the State Dept. of Education] had in mind,” said Alford.

A “Phase II” plan for the school is due by Wednesday, Nov. 15. Under “Phase II,” the district would be faced with three options: closure of the school, contracting with an approved “external operator” charter company, or a district-managed charter school. According to Pickles, the district-managed charter plan would be the only plan the State School Board would accept. This means the School Board would have to sign a charter school contract in January for the operation of MCCS for the 2018-19 school year, regardless of any improvement that may come about at the end of the current school year. It was suggested by the legal counsel at the Florida Association of District School Superintendents that the Madison District pursue a contract with a “local” charter, as a local charter may be more willing to provide an “out clause” in case the school grade improves. For Madison, this would mean dealing with the governing bodies of either James Madison Preparatory High School or Madison Creative Arts Academy in order to put together an agreement for the operation of MCCS.

Members of the School Board and Pickles have vowed to fight these decisions. “I will fight, [I'm] just not going to hand our kids over [to a charter company],” said Pickles.

According to School Board Attorney Tom Reeves, the local School Board is in charge of free public schools. This is according to the Florida Constitution. If it is mandated that MCCS become a charter school, that will mean Madison County students in grades six through eight would have no choice but to attend a charter school. “I think that could be an issue,” said Reeves. A legal battle would likely be long, drawn out, and very expensive.

This story will likely be a continuing story over the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, the fate of MCCS remains uncertain.

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