Meeting Date:           February 26, 2007


From:                          Ron Stock, City Manager


Subject:                      Charter School Discussion



Staff Recommendation:

Discuss Charter School issue, Dabney lease, and Commission support.



The School Board held a workshop on February 12th.  The City’s representative, Attorney Bob Williams had the following to report: 


“The School Board finally got to us a little before 4.  Scott did a great job of introducing his recommendation.  I spoke in favor; so did Dennis.”


“Our biggest opponent was Conner.  He said he didn't think there were three commissioners who would vote to continue with the Charter school, especially "in light of all the financial issues that Leesburg is facing that we read about in the newspapers."  He mentioned the downgrading of our bond ratings several times.  I got the impression he had lobbied some of our commissioners.  The other School Board members were pretty positive, but had their own issues.”


“Ultimately, Scott talked the Board into authorizing lease negotiations, provided that the Leesburg commission re-affirms its desire to move forward on the Charter school.  Conner agreed.  All they are looking for is a simple vote of support.”


“The other issues raised included:


1.  The desire to allow the Heritage Foundation to use the Dabney school property after school hours.   (Fisher, Metz)

2.  The need to find another place for the Foundation and other current users of the school (Conner).

3.  The desire to require the City to bus kids within a two  mile radius of the school (Conner, Barrow).”


“Also, the School Board's impact fee consultant recommended increasing the SF impact fee to nearly $18K.”


Similarly, during that same week Commissioner Puckett requested this matter be placed on the Commission Agenda for the purpose of determining if the change in Commission membership changed the level of support for this project.


The Commission is not being asked to write a blank check or to make a final determination that you are going to move forward without knowing all of the facts.  Rather you are being asked if you have an interest in moving on to the next level of analysis.


As you know, being fiscally conservative we did not believe it was appropriate to spend taxpayer funds to look at the Dabney facility until we had an indication that the School Board would make the facility available to us.  It didn’t seem appropriate to hire an architect to give us a report on the current condition of the buildings, the work that needed to be done, or estimate the cost of that work if we would never have the use of these buildings for a school.


The next step, if approved by the Commission, would be to do this fact finding.


At the same time we would negotiate the terms of the lease agreement with the School Board.


Thereafter, we would begin fundraising efforts to determine what amount of the costs will be donated by our partners, by developers, and others.


There will be a number of instances in the next year in which you may elect to withdraw should the costs be prohibitive.


Let me further provide you with a review of why we started this project in the first place.  In 2004 the School Board closed three schools and opened Leesburg Elementary.  But from the first day of operation that school has been over-capacity.  With concurrency, and without any new facility being built by the School Board, we will not be able to approve a single building permit.


The School Board’s 5-year Capital Improvement Plan does not have any new facilities in Leesburg.


Concurrency of course will not eliminate every new home, because some larger developers may be able to afford the cost of building schools and gated-55-and-older developments will continue to be exempt.


But the smaller developer and the individuals who have purchased a lot in Sunnyside and desire to build their dream home will not be able to build. 


Some growth is necessary for our economy to be strong.  Eliminating the small developer will eliminate most of the developers in our community and have the same effect on our economy that the freezes had in the late ‘80s.


But unlike the freezes, this is avoidable.


We have learned that Charter Schools have sufficient resources to operate, that has been the experience of Oakland, Lake Wales, Pembroke Pines, and Kissimmee.  What creates the financial problem that so many Charter Schools experience is that there is not sufficient funding to build the facilities.  Groveland has learned this lesson.  Kissimmee struggles because it has to pull so much money from operations to pay for their facilities that there isn’t enough left for operations.


We have a distinct advantage; we do not have to build a facility at the cost of $16M (Groveland’s estimate of cost).  We have a school.  All we have to do is renovate it so that it is a safe facility for our children.  The only people who know, the folks from Pembroke Pines toured Dabney and said “a million dollars will go a long way.”  We propose to use the funds already appropriated for this purpose in the current budget, and get a better handle on the costs.


As to the other items, they do not concern us.  The use of the facilities by neighborhood groups is something we would want to encourage.  We have already stated that we would assist in the relocation of the Foundation.  Scott Strong believes that he has the appropriate location already determined—Lee School’s Cafeteria. 


Jimmy Connors repeatedly says the City should bus children within two miles of the school.  But the Lake County School District does not bus students within two miles of any of their schools.  What is good for the goose, is good for the gander.  My only comment to Mr. Connors is this—if he will modify the Lake County School District’s rule on busing and agree to bus children within two miles of each and every Lake County Elementary School, we will follow suit and do the same at Dabney.