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School Board goes to court in bid to block two charters


The School Board has decided to waste another $35,000 in an attempt to block Somerset Academy, an A-grade charter school organization, from opening an elementary and middle school in Indian River County.

Rebuffed by the Florida Board of Education, which unanimously approved Somerset’s application, the School Board voted 3-to-2 to carry its battle to keep Somerset out of Indian River County to the Fourth District Court. No hearing date or judge has been assigned yet.

Remarkably, the local School District – one of only a handful in Florida that still remains under a half-century-old court desegregation order – cited desegregation concerns in opposing Somerset before the state Board of Education.

“Somerset is completely ignorant of the federal desegregation obligations in Indian River County and cannot comply with these obligations,” the School Board’s attorney Suzanne D’Agresta said in a brief sent to the State School Board of Education.

But most of the 14,000 students Somerset serves in the 37 charter schools it operates in Florida are minorities, a Somerset spokesman said.

“Although exact totals vary by campus and community, overall totals are: 18 percent white, 32 percent black, 48 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, 3 percent other,” the spokesman added.  “The overall free/reduced lunch student population is estimated at 49 percent.”

As for complying with the desegregation order, Somerset’s attorney, Charles Gibson, said that since the schools it proposes for Indian River County “aren’t open yet,” it is impossible to know the racial composition of students and staff.

One thing that it is possible to know is that the South Miami charter schools that Somerset proposes to replicate here – fostering bilingualism in technologically advanced classrooms – have been given “A” grades by the State Department of Education for four years running.

The School Board split on the decision to carry its battle against Somerset to the courts.  After a closed meeting, board members Claudia Jimenez, Dale Simchick and Matthew McCain voted for the appeal. Charles Searcy and Shawn Frost opposed going to court.

Though all board members were asked to explain their vote, only Frost responded. He said he visited the Miami school Somerset hopes to replicate here, and was “extremely impressed with how much they were able to accomplish with such a small footprint.

“They had a great community-focused culture and their dual language programs would have been a great feeder into the International Baccalaureate programs or the Indian River County High School international programs,” he said. 

Frost said he would have preferred the $35,000 being used to fight the state’s reversal be spent “at work here in the classroom.”

The anti-charter faction on the school board seems more focused on getting the maximum per-student state funding – and not sharing it with charter schools – than on providing top-quality education to public school pupils.