BRADENTON -- Starting a charter school can be a tough proposition, but that hasn't prevented five nonprofits from submitting applications to the Manatee County School District this year.
Charter schools do not charge tuition and receive money from the state through the local school district but operate independent of the school district, giving them more freedom over the types of courses they offer. Most charter schools have some niche area of focus such as the arts or science.
The last charter school approved in Manatee County was Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication, which converted from a Manatee County public magnet school into a charter school.
The five applicants were all shooting for an August opening date. The charter applications were due Aug. 1, 2015. District staff offers recommendations to the Manatee County School Board on whether to approve the charter applications. Those recommendations are expected to go before the board at the end of October or beginning of November, said Judy Griffin, director of district support.
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In years past, the board acted on charter applications earlier in the year, but the district signed extensions with all charter applicants this year.
"That gives us more time for a real thorough process," Griffin said.
Last year, all five charter applicants were denied by the school board.
Each year, Manatee County receives about five charter school applications, Griffin said. Some districts close to Manatee County only get one or two applicants a year, Griffin said, but some of the larger nearby districts can get up to 50 applications a year.
Here's a look at this year's applications in Manatee County:
Avant Garde Academy
Piggybacking off a charter school in Hollywood, Fla., Avant Garde Academy of Manatee aims to be a "community driven" charter school, said Jennifer Lucas, chief academic officer and a former principal at Imagine Charter at North Manatee.
The new charter aims to locate near the growing populations east of Interstate 75, most likely between state roads 64 and 70, Lucas said.
The charter will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, which Lucas said is lacking in a lot of public schools because of budget cuts.
"We have a concern a lot of schools have been doing away with their arts programs," she said.
In its first year, the school plans to serve 714 students from pre-kindergarten to grade six. After five years, the school plans to expand to grade eight and enroll 890 students.
Lucas says she envisions a partnership with the Manatee County School District and said charters can be a way for school districts to gain more student seats without the cost of building new schools.
Gulf Coast Charter Academy North
The Gulf Coast Charter Academy North would be a sister school to Gulf Coast Charter Academy South, in Naples. Aiming to locate in the growing Parrish area, the school expects to open for the 2016-17 year, serving 482 students from kindergarten to grade six. By the 2020-21 school year, the school plans to expand to have 916 students from kindergarten to grade eight.
The school also would focus on STEAM and would use FORZA Education Management, a company with offices in Bonita Springs and Parrish. Chuck Malatesta, chief executive officer of FORZA, said the charter school would help serve the growing area.
The proposed academy "will market the school to be a microcosm of the community-at-large, with all groups significantly represented culminating in a multicultural school environment," Malatesta wrote in an email to the Herald.
Malatesta wrote the charter school had a strong application, and will appeal to the state if the district and school board do not authorize it.
"The GCCAN Board of Directors does not want to work in a vacuum by conducting its educational affairs as an isolated entity and has every intention to work closely and partner with the Manatee County Public Schools via a cooperative and collaborative effort culminating in GCCAN becoming one of the top schools in the area," Malatesta wrote.
The Manatee MYcroSchool would be modeled after existing MYcroSchool charters in Florida, including schools in Pinellas County, Jacksonville and The Keys, aiming to help students at-risk of not graduating.
"We really try to target the overage, under-credit students," said Joy Baldree, executive director of education services for the Florida branch of New Education for the Workplace, a California-based nonprofit.
The charter would serve up to 350 students in grades nine through 12 by the fifth year of operation. Baldree said the charters typically work with the districts to help identity students who most need the charter's services.
"We do extremely well with special circumstances students," Baldree said.
Baldree said the organization was approached at its Pinellas County school to look at Manatee County as an option for establishing a charter. Baldree said they're exploring the Palmetto area, but would consider any other area the district suggests.
Championship Academy of Distinction at Bradenton
Championship Academy of Distinction operates a kindergarten through grade eight charter between two campuses in Broward County.
In Manatee, the charter is proposing a 2016 opening, with 536 students in grades kindergarten through five, and hoping to expand to 764 students in kindergarten through grade eight by the fifth year.
Organizers did not want to comment before the board meeting, said spokeswomen Cheri Shannon.
Blue River School for Arts and Innovation
Although organizing members submitted a complete application and went through the interview process, officials have decided to withdraw their application in hopes of submitting a stronger one next year.
"We thought we want to go back and dot some more I's and cross some more T's," said founding member Donna Dwiggins of Parrish.
Organizers want to work on strengthening community partnerships and raising more money before going before the board for consideration. Dwiggins said the organization got a lot of good feedback from the district and will be incorporating that feedback for next year.
"We've got some great ideas," Dwiggins said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.