Rowlett Elementary embarks on risky move to charter status

June 15, 2013 

Amid all the major developments in the Manatee County school district of late in the wake of a year of turmoil, one stands out if only for the fact this involves teachers and parents united in pursuit of independence and excellence.

With astonishingly strong majorities, those adults voted to establish Rowlett Magnet Elementary School as a charter -- thus free of district difficulties.

With school board or state approval, Rowlett would make history as the first Manatee County conversion school. While we're not an advocate of the charter school movement, we have to admire Rowlett's chutzpah.

With 95 percent of the parents (480-26) and 94 percent of the teachers (57-4) voting in favor of conversion, the overwhelming numbers speak volumes about the potential for success. The school has a history of parental involvement, which could be pivotal to a charter's future.

Well known for its arts and communications classes, Rowlett feared the district's financial troubles would jeopardize these prized magnet programs as well as those in technology and language.

Whether Rowlett can survive financially on its own is another question. In the Herald's coverage of this process, one veteran of conversions noted that such charters are more expensive to operate than a public school.

At that same May meeting, a district official cited a projected deficit of $490,000 using current financial figures. But principal Brian Flynn contends the school will enjoy a $100,000 surplus according to his calculations.

Monday's vote totals indicate Rowlett teachers and parents are taking a calculated gamble on finances. Their devotion to the school is admirable.

What happens, though, if the charter conversion encounters money problems? They're sailing into uncharted territory for Manatee County.

Stay tuned as this grand experiment unfolds.

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