The Pasco County School Board has refused a 5-year extension of Union Park Charter Academy’s contract, instead granting it a one-year term.
The decision came during the board’s April 6 meeting, at the recommendation of Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning.
Board members backed the superintendent, despite the urgings of numerous parents and of representatives of Charter Schools USA and the school’s governing board.
Browning said the school district has no desire to shut down the charter school, but said this action is necessary to ensure the charter gets its financial house in order.
Parent after parent told school board members that Union Park has gone to extraordinary lengths to meet the needs of their children, to maintain open lines of communication with parents and to engage families.
They said their children are thriving and they believe the school needs the five-year contract extension to provide stability.
In addition to the obvious support of parents — representatives for the school said they were surprised by the district’s decision to offer just a one-year term.
“Union Park Charter has met all criteria to be renewed for five years,” said Valora Cole, board chair of the Florida Charter Educational Inc., which is the governing board for Union Park Academy.
Eddie Ruiz, Florida State Director for Charter Schools USA, told school board members that there was no basis for just a one-year term.
He told the school board that Charter Schools USA has been operating for 20 years and this has never been an issue.
Independent auditors have done audits and there have been no negative findings, he said.
“We’re happy to work with staff, but a one-year renewal really will not help our school. It really will hurt our school. And so, we really are asking for what we deserve, which is a five-year renewal,” Ruiz said.
But Mary Tillman, director of internal audit for Pasco County Schools, said there were issues of overspending during the school’s first two years of operation. She also noted that the budgets are based on enrollment projections that were not achieved.
The school did not produce evidence of any budget amendments to address that issue, Tillman said.
The district’s auditor added: “I have no doubt that Charter Schools USA has the resources to support this school but we haven’t seen that in writing.”
Another problem, according to Tillman, is that the budget was missing information.
“I don’t know how to analyze budgets when not all of the numbers are there,” Tillman said.
Browning said his email box was flooded with messages, which conveyed the sense that the school district was preparing to close Union Park.
“It is not the intent of this superintendent or district to close a charter school,” Browning said.
Published April 14, 2021