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Duval School Officials May Shutter New Charter School

Duval County Public Schools

A Southside charter school that just opened its doors this week may be forced to close them again.

Duval County Public Schools plans to put Scholar Preparatory Academy on a 90-day termination notice.

The charter school, located at 9000 Southside Boulevard, opened this month to kindergarten through fifth graders with plans to add sixth, seventh and eighth grade in subsequent years.

However, several missed deadlines and low enrollment numbers have left the school on shaky ground with the district.

“There are quite a few milestones that have been missed,” said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

That includes the original start date for the school. It was slated to open in Fall 2013 but deferred a year.

Vitti said the school also failed to meet several contract requirements, including a timely asbestos inspection and employee background checks. A visit by the district representative Tuesday found that two teachers on the school’s campus had not been properly screened by human resources.

However, the biggest point of contention was the charter's failure to meet the minimum enrollment specified in its contract. Originally, the contract specified that the school must have at least 130 students, but that was revised this month to 112 students. According to the district, the school currently has 94 students.

“Therefore, they’re still significantly below that,” Vitti said. “So [it’s] very hard to run a school financially  to meet the budget guidelines that were created it if their source of  revenue, which is student enrollment is much below what they anticipated.”

Under Florida law, charter schools are allocated about $5,400 for each student enrolled.

Scholar Preparatory had also applied for a startup grant from the Florida Department of Education, Vitti said, but the district learned Tuesday that the application was denied.
“At this point, their budget still is not sustainable,” he said.

Tuesday, Duval County School Board members voiced similar apprehension.

“It seems that they’ve already created a pattern of how they would operate,” said Board Member Cheryl Grimes.

“This frightens me because, I mean, what kind of service are they providing students?” said Board Member Connie Hall.

Multiple calls and messages left by WJCT for Scholar Preparatory founder Linda Wiggins were not returned in time for publication.

The 90-day notice will go before the school board for approval next month.

If the board approves, the school will have 90 days to rectify issues raised by the district and prevent its closure. It will have 15 days to file an appeal.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.