NAPLES — Green didn’t mean go for proponents of a Marco Island charter high school at Thursday’s Collier County School Board meeting.
Collier County School Board members decided they needed more time to review an updated charter application submitted to them earlier this week. School officials asked lead proponent for the school, parent Jane Watt, more than three times over the course of about one hour if she would agree to delay a vote. Watt declined each time until just before push came to shove and a decision was once again demanded of her before the board voted.
“That was a democratic disgrace,” said Marco Island resident Jeff Hewson after the board agreed to review the charter application again within four weeks.
“It was a farce. They led her by the nose. They should have said ‘you didn’t present the facts on time,’ voted and then let the state decide (when appealed),” said Hewson, who opposed the school.
Donning green shirts to show their numbers, about 75 Marco Island residents supporting the creation of the school, named Marco Island Academy, made up the vast majority of public speakers Thursday.
The Marco Island Discovery Center, a nonprofit led by Watt, applied for the charter after about two years of organizational work.
The Collier County Public School’s Charter School Committee recommended the board deny the charter application, citing several “areas of significant concern” including in the educational program design, curriculum, facilities and budget.
Watt said their assessment was not based on “competent, substantial evidence.”
School Board member Steven Donovan was inclined to agree with Watt.
“I initially wasn’t in support of a charter high school on Marco. I thought it was driven on the wrong type of agenda,” said Donovan.
The school’s proposal sparked controversy at the outset due to beliefs of racism and elitism being the motivation for the school.
However, after reviewing the application, Donovan said he supported it.
Earlier in the evening, the board had unanimously approved a charter high school application from Edison State College to be in Ave Maria at a future Jackson Laboratories site without much ado, Donovan said.
“It seemed like they were pulling this apart, nitpicking comparatively,” he said. “The Marco Island charter definitely had to meet a higher standard.”
School board members Pat Carroll, Julie Sprague and Kathleen Curatolo said they would be inclined to reconsider the application but needed more time.
Watt declined to agree to a Nov. 4 meeting.
Carroll voted against the charter application “based on the status of the application not on the merits of the school.”
School Board member Roy Terry also voted ‘no,’ citing the same reasons.
Martha Hayes, Collier County School District’s chief instructional officer, said staff would work with the proponents and also suggested they agree to delay the vote.
Donovan called the situation political and suggested Watt and the Discovery Center board accept to set up a special-meeting in November.
Many people, including Marco Island and other Collier County residents, continue to voice concerns about dollars that currently go to Lely High School being lost to the new school because the tax dollars follow the students to whatever school they attend.
Also, the opponents said, the school will come with additional costs to taxpayers and parents.
The numbers of supporters present at the meeting were in the majority, despite non-scientific polls and a survey by the Marco Island Civic Association showing there wasn’t a clear majority of Marco Island supporters.
Citing state law, the committee called the education program and curriculum unclear and incoherent. Further, the members said the facilities, which were to be 13 temporary trailers were inadequate and underpriced by their estimates. Current cash assets of less than $30,000, lack of funding for athletics and band, as well as insufficient contingencies and reserves were also concerns.
A last-minute pledge of $250,000, by an unnamed source, was announced by Watt. However, that last minute information and updates to the curriculum to address the committee’s concerns were too late for several board members.
Just before an official order of the board was announced, Watt was given one more opportunity to accept a delay. She hemmed and hawed and then agreed.
A future meeting is yet to be scheduled.
A special-called meeting to reconsider the charter application is tentatively scheduled 4 p.m. Nov. 10 at the administration building.