The Pasco County School Board voted 3-2 to approve a partnership to advance a plan for a Patel Charter School, expected to open in 2025.
The parties making the agreement are the Pasco County School Board and Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel 2017 Foundation for Global Understanding Inc., a Florida not-for-profit corporation. The not-for-profit organization is referred to as Patel, throughout the agreement with the school board.
Under terms of the deal, the school board will donate 20 acres for the Patel charter high school and Patel will construct the school, in accordance with the state’s building code and its educational facilities standards.
As part of the agreement, at least two of the charter school’s board members will be Pasco County residents.
The school campus is planned at the school district’s Starkey/Tower site, where the school system owns 76 acres.
The district will retain 56 acres, which at some point could be used for a district school, according to information provided by district staff and background materials in the board’s May 16 agenda packet.
Patel plans to offer the Cambridge Programme, which is known for its rigor and/or a medical/health careers pathway program at a school being built for 1,000 students.
Since it is a charter school, a lottery system will be used to select students.
As part of the agreement Patel and the school board have agreed to enter into a Step-in Agreement, which gives the district the ability to step in, in the event the charter school fails for any reason.
That agreement confirms the charter school facility will be created to mitigate the educational impact created by the development of new residential dwelling units, and therefore the land will be donated to Patel. For its part, Patel will cover the costs associated with the design and construction, including reasonable costs associated with financing.
Patel also has agreed to pursue efforts to recruit Pasco students who have a free or reduced lunch status to attend the high school.
School board chairwoman Megan Harding and board members Cynthia Armstrong and Al Hernandez voted for the partnership. Board members Alison Crumbley and Colleen Beaudoin voted no.
The building design for Patel’s Pasco school will closely emulate its Hillsborough Charter Campus regarding room sizes, support spaces, building systems, and finishes, according to background materials.
School board member Armstrong made the motion to approve the partnership, citing several benefits of the deal.
She noted Patel’s “extremely good work” in Hillsborough County and expressed confidence it will provide the same quality of programming to Pasco County.
Armstrong added that the system would benefit because the charter would accommodate extra growth in an area where a new district high school is not yet scheduled.
She also noted the value of the land being donated is far less expensive than the costs associated with building the school.
Board member Hernandez, who seconded the motion, said he based his support primarily from considering the deal from a business perspective.
“We’re talking about donating 20 out of the 76 acres.
“We’re saving, potentially, $40 million in capital, here, which we can use,” he added, noting it may be possible to use some of those savings in other parts of the district.
“They (Patel) do a phenomenal job in Hillsborough County. I think it behooves us, as a business community, to actually bring the Patel family into our community, as well,” Hernandez said.
But board colleagues Beaudoin and Crumbley raised objections.
Both board members made it clear that their opposition in no way reflects on Patel.
Crumbley said she could not support giving away the land, when she voted on purchasing that site years ago to use for a district high school.
Both she and Beaudoin also object to having Patel offer the Cambridge Programme — something they believe the district should expand into Central Pasco.
Both women spoke passionately about Pasco’s great efforts and achievements with Cambridge. They want the district, not Patel, to provide the program in Central Pasco.
But Superintendent Kurt Browning said the district is not in a position to expand its Cambridge Programme until it is able to provide additional support for its existing Cambridge schools.
Betsy Kuhn, assistant superintendent for support services, said she worked with Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd and Planning Director Chris Williams and Ash Bagdy, from Patel, to iron out the terms.
She also noted that school board attorney Nancy Alfonso reviewed the agreement.
Kuhn also pointed out that several provisions in the agreement protect the district’s interests.
Bagdy, who appeared on behalf of Patel, assured board members: “We are doing this for the right reasons. We have good intentions. This is our investment back into the community.
“It’s not a management company. It’s not a for-profit. None of us are on the payroll. It is truly something we want to do for the county, for the kids in that area.
“He (Dr. Kiran Patel) does not need to make money from this school.”
Published May 24, 2023