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School Board Approves For-Profit Charter School

Written by on Saturday, March 9, 2024

Most public commenters object to the application.

By Bernadette Estrada-Brown

Original Air Date: Mar. 6, 2024

Host: Yesterday, the Sarasota School Board voted on the application of a for-profit charter school. This application by an affiliate of Charter Schools USA triggered a protest, and 57 members of the public lined up to speak. Bernadette Estrada-Brown was there.

Bernadette Estrada-Brown:  Tensions were running high in Sarasota as the school board meeting discussed a controversial application by an affiliate of Charter Schools USA, a for-profit business. Despite opposition from teachers, community members, and students, the school board voted 4 to 1 in favor of the Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy. The decision left many in the community outraged, with some expressing concerns that the move will divert much-needed resources away from public schools, which are already struggling to meet educational needs. Before the vote, 57 community members signed up to speak for or against the decision. Educators were expressing their dissent, and we know it takes guts to speak out as a teacher. I interviewed Anastasia Dykins, a teacher and parent of a high school freshman who wanted to shine a light on the inequity of Sarasota Title I schools, which have a large proportion of students from low-income families.

Anastasia Dykins: The resigned patronization with which the shortest month was chosen to celebrate black history has never been lost on the American public. Adding insult to academic injury is that February falls in the antebellum of testing season. We know history is not a tested subject until middle school. Therefore, it’s absurd to presume that the contribution of an entire race of Americans is given more than the office bulletin board, and perhaps a fun fact about Harriet Tubman during the morning announcements. You see, financially and professionally, it’s just not a smart move for a teacher to support the practice to devote instructional time to a subject that will not increase your test scores.

So moving forward, just be consistent and ignore Black History Month in your board meetings, like you do in your schools. The other topic on which I would like to arrogantly opine is the chronic problem of lack of parental involvement at some of our schools. It’s poverty. The schools with the lowest parental involvement are also our poorest, which begs the question. Are these families living in poverty, therefore lack the basic needs critical for typical parental involvement? Or maybe are you just failing to connect with them? Talk to your parents, not about them.

BEB: Liz Barker, a parent, school psychologist, and candidate for school board, spoke against for-profit charter schools.

Liz Barker: The lack of transparency and accountability with private charter management companies is astounding. When a public school spends its tax dollars, we know exactly where that money is going. When a charter school spends our tax dollars to pay a private management company, the public never sees a breakdown of how much of that money touches the students directly and how much goes to company profits. These are our tax dollars, and every single one that goes to profits would otherwise have been used to educate our children.

Ahead of the school board meeting, a new organization called School Sanity Project launched by running up and down US 41 a rolling billboard, asking Bridget Ziegler to resign. Photo: Ramon Lopez

BEB:  The large number of students who decided to spend the evening at a board meeting, speaking against for-profit charter schools, reflected the seriousness of this matter. Many of them had been called to the meeting and a protest beforehand by an organization started by teenagers last year, the Social Equity through Education Alliance.   Many students voiced their frustration at decisions they say don’t prioritize their education. Alex Liberman, a Sarasota High School freshman, feels that money meant for public education should stay in public education.

Alex Liberman: I’m here because I think it’s important to keep money meant for public education in public education. Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy will pull money, potentially millions, from public education. In times of highly polarized political beliefs and increasingly Internet-based communication, in-person coexistence and diverse interactions could not be more important. Thus, it is vital to vote against the Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy.

BEB:  Board members supporting the decision argue that for-profit charter schools offer innovative approaches to education and provide parents with additional choices for their children’s schooling.

Bridget Ziegler: … genuinely wants to ensure that the environment, and the culture, and the climate, and the policies, and procedures, and practices of this district are such that they will ensure every student and every staff member feels protected, feels respected, is in a safe environment. I know that there’s a lot of conversation about fear, and you know what? I don’t blame you! When you consider the way things are covered.

BEB: Board member Tom Edwards was the dissenting vote. He argues that the community is still in the dark about the application.

Tom Edwards

Tom Edwards: There’s still confusion, in my mind, of what exactly their interpretation of classical education is. There’s still confusion and high drama surrounding their proposed location. There’s no food or transportation plan. There’s a $350,000 custodial budget line. That’s gonna be the cleanest school on the planet.

BEB: At a work meeting two weeks ago, Superintendent Terrence Connor raised concerns about projected enrollment. The proponents say the school will open in August 2025 with 100 kindergarteners. However, there are not 100 kindergarteners within a six-mile radius of the school’s proposed property on Bee Ridge Road, east of I-75.

The Sarasota Classical Preparatory Academy is the second for-profit charter school approved by the Sarasota School Board. Early last year, the board reversed its original rejection and approved a K-12 school by the same operator in Wellen Park, near North Port.

Charter schools, funded by taxpayers, do not charge tuition to students. Charter Schools USA seeks profit mostly from taxpayer funding.

How this decision will impact the Sarasota community and its educational landscape remains to be seen. The school board’s chief financial officer is projecting a slight decrease in student enrollment in Sarasota public schools for the next school year, the first since the Great Recession in the early 2000s. However, she attributes that loss to families moving out of the county or Florida rather than moving towards private schools.

This has been Bernadette Estrada-Brown with WSLR news.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.