Parents Surprised: City votes to cancel management contract and renegotiation with Chart Schools USA.
by Howard Melamed
01/19/02 First Draft
Parents of children attending the City of Coral Springs Charter School were taught something about how the city government operates. Surprising everyone in attendance at the city commission meeting of January 14, including a few of the city commissioners, the City Manager, Michael Levenson requested that the commissioners cancel the current agreement with Charter Schools USA inc. and allow further negotiations for a new contract based upon a letter of understanding already negotiated.
This all came about as the deadline to cancel the management company’s agreement approached, and would have left the city with no changes to the contract and paying them a premium of more than $240,000. This surprise item appeared in the agenda moments before the commission meeting started and caught both Commissioner Calhoun and parents of the charter school by surprise. Parents of children who attend the school where not in attendance since they didn’t know that this was going to be on the agenda. The city publishes an agenda only the day before a city commission meeting and often changes it minutes before the meeting is scheduled to start.
One parent of a student (asked not to reveal her name) was astounded by the lack of respect that the commissioners showed by not letting anyone know that they were going to talk about the school. “I would have liked to tell them how I felt about the school and what they can change to make it better”, Said the mother of one of the students. “Why do they want to ram this down our throats? What are they afraid of?”
The issue did spark a heated debate between Commissioners as the contract given to the company hired to manage the Coral Springs Charter School , Charter USA, came up for renewal. City manager Michael Levenson brought up the issue as the deadline for canceling the contract with the management company was approaching. He had renegotiated a draft agreement for a five year period that would provide incentives to the company for achieving measured progress through the contract term.
Commissioner Polin was unhappy with the performance of the management company, and said that he had to field numerous complaints about the quality of the education and the abilities of the management company to properly ruin the school. Commissioner Polin wanted the right to terminate the agreement contract without any reason whatsoever put into the contract. This would give the city the upper hand in disputes and the enforcement of standards within the school.
Commissioner Burke said that it was unreasonable and that the standards over the passed several months have increased. Commissioner Calhoun was upset that she was only given the draft agreement a few minutes before the commission meeting and that she needed more time to study and evaluate what her position might be. Commissioner Burke, said that there was enough time and perhaps they could hold a meeting next week, after the deadline.
As Florida’s largest charter school, the Coral Springs Charter School is home to over 1,600 sixth through twelfth grade students. It came into existence a few years ago to ease the overcrowding of the schools and provide an alternate higher learning facility in the city. Broward County School Board was unwilling to proceed with another high school. The City felt that it was needed so they went into the education business by opening a Charter School on prime downtown Coral Springs real estate located where the first mall in Coral Springs used to be. Parents lined up to enroll their children in was supposed to be a center for higher learning. Instead, the ‘Harvard’ of Coral Springs has ended up as a “C” grade school. Local Broward County public Schools Taravella and Stonemen Douglas all have “A” grades as measured by the FCAT scores administered by the state.
The city had in place a management company, Charter USA, running the school instead of city employees. Charter Schools USA, Inc. has head offices in Fort Lauderdale and is heralded as one of the nation’s leading and fastest growing development and management companies of charter schools, kindergarten through 12th grade.
The new management contract (Click here to view) would give the company $320,000 as a management fee and another $320,000 as an incentive based on performance of the students and the satisfaction of the parents. However, the performance criteria is a simple one, since it is based on the school meeting the average of all of the other schools in the area. In other words all this school, paid for by tax payers money, has to be is an ‘Average School’ not the best as promised. If they fail to meet the objective, a sliding scale of funds will be paid to them anyways.
Between all of the city commissioners, Commissioner Polin was the only one criticizing the management company. Burke was defending it, Calhoun couldn’t understand it, Straddling wasn’t paying attention, and the Mayor didn’t want to get involved in the debate. So they cancelled the current agreement and directed the disgusted city manager , who couldn’t believe that they didn’t agree to sign a simple Letter of Understanding that didn’t mean anything anyway (a “LOU” is not binding), to negotiate further with the management company. If they can’t reach a contract by the next commission meeting, then the city will be forced to advertise and look elsewhere for another management company to manage the kids. (Sort of like firing the Baby sitter on the way out to the movies isn’t it?) While all of this is going on the children must be taught and Charter Schools USA must continue to show up at work, even though they do not know if they will be there same time next year.
Many parents may be happy with the Charter School and its management. Others may be critical of it. The only way to know, is for these people to come out to the next meeting and participate in the discussion…. If it is placed on the agenda and they tell everyone about it.