If you go
The School Board is to consider the nearly 500-page charter application at a meeting scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 at Immokalee High School.
MARCO ISLAND — Location, location, location. While Marco Island residents want to know where the proposed charter high school will be, proponents say they’re more concerned about if it will be.
Opposition comes from residents living near the school’s proposed startup location, which could be the grounds of New Life Community Church. However, final approval of the charter rests in the hands of the five current Collier County School Board members.
The approval process is not a popularity contest, said the school’s lead proponent, Jane Watt.
The criteria for acceptance is based solely on state statute, something the five board members said they understand. District 1 member Pat Carroll has said she would prevent anything she could from hurting Lely High School, but generally supports charter and magnet schools.
The School Board is to consider the near 500-page charter application at a meeting scheduled Oct. 21. As one of their final decisions before the November election, they will decide whether the marine-biology, hospitality and environmentally focused curriculum, as well as budget, staffing and other aspects technically meet state requirements.
“If for any reason the School Board does not approve the application, we will appeal it at the state level,” assured Watt.
The school, which will also offer traditional curriculum, is dubbed Marco Island Academy, and has been organized in less than two years by the nonprofit Marco Island Discovery Center.
Recent letters to the editor and e-mails on the issue have been fiery. The opposition became so vehement that Watt said she had to request a restraining order against one of the lead opponents. Details could not immediately be confirmed by the Marco Island Police Department.
Residents near the church, located at 590 West Elkcam Circle, said they would support the school if it were somewhere else.
“We didn’t even have to name a location to submit our charter application,” said Watt.
“I thought it would be the perfect location because there aren’t many homes nearby. It’s right by the undeveloped Veterans’ (Community) Park,” she said. “There is a cemetery, a 7-Eleven, a U-Store-It... It’s not like it will be located in a botanical garden.”
The church is informally offering vacant land where 13 modulars, or trailers, could house temporary classrooms in the first year, which is slated for fall 2011. There may be as many as 25 trailers as the school is planned to grow from about 150 9th-graders in the first year to 500 9th- through 12th-graders within three years.
If the charter is approved, a conditional-use permit may be considered by the Marco Island Planning Board and City Council for the church location.
The longterm location remains unknown.
“We decided to stay away from Tract K for now because it was so contentious,” Watt said. Also, it would take a long time to get all the approvals to build on that Collier County School District-owned site, which is the home of protected nesting American bald eagles in the Tigertail area, she said.
A recent guest commentary in the Marco Eagle written by Larry Sacher raised questions about city officials volunteering for the school.
The charter application lists volunteers to include councilmen Joe Batte, Chuck Kiester, Larry Magel and Frank Recker, as well as Planning Board member Irv Povlow.
“Most egregious of all, since he is the primary source of data for consideration by the Planning Board, is City Planner Kris Van Lengen, who is listed as a member of the school’s land use committee,” Sacher wrote.
However, all the elected officials, with the exception of Recker, deny being volunteers. They said they support a high school on the Island, but it does not require them to recuse themselves from voting or cause a conflict of interest.
“Veterans of the armed services vote on veterans’ matters; I am a member of the historical society and voted on funding; we vote on taxes which we all have to pay; utility rates which apply to some of us more than others... Some of us are also members of the police, fire, or parks and rec foundations. But we vote on all related issues,” Recker wrote in an e-mail to the Eagle.
Regarding any future votes he’ll take regarding the school building and location, while taking in effect any traffic or other infrastructure concerns, Recker said:
“Notwithstanding the law and my support for a charter high school, I am confident that I can be fair and objective.”
Van Lengen, who couldn’t be reached while out of the office for several days, served as a source for local land use laws early in the proposal, Watt said.
The volunteer list, which isn’t required anyway, was a misnomer and included people who signed up to receive information, she said.
Proponents are focused on getting the charter approved and fundraising, Watt said.
Operating the school is estimated to cost $1.7 million in the first year and to increase incrementally based on new students, per the charter application. Those costs are paid through donations, as well as state and local tax allocations that would have gone to the schools the students are zoned to attend. In the case of Marco Island residents, that is Lely High School.