Only days away from a hearing that would determine Manatee Charter School’s continued existence, the school’s attorney persuaded the School Board of Manatee County to grant two more weeks to prepare a defense.
Superintendent Diana Greene notified the charter school of the district’s intention to not renew the charter via a letter from general counsel Mitch Teitelbaum on Feb. 9, citing several concerns including disorganized classes with a lack of student engagement, negative interactions between students and teachers and a slew of administrative errors. The charter school requested a hearing, and the district scheduled one for Friday, March 17.
The charter school’s goal on Tuesday was to convince board members that it was not reasonable to expect school officials to prepare a defense in time for Friday’s meeting.
Ultimately, the charter succeeded, and in a 3-2 vote, the board granted the charter a continuance. The meeting was rescheduled for March 27, which will be a marathon day of adjudicating for the board, as it falls the same day as the union impasse hearing.
In a quasi-judicial hearing, where board members heard arguments from district and charter school lawyers, the debate boiled down to which held more weight — state statute, or the contract between the district and the charter.
State law allows up to 60 days to hold a hearing when a charter is notified of intention to not renew, but the signed contract between the district and Manatee Charter dictates the hearing must be held within 30 days.
Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy and board member Dave Miner voted to deny the continuance, saying the district was on solid legal footing and had followed the process prescribed by the process laid out in the charter’s contract.
Manatee Charter School lawyer Shari McCartney suggested that Greene hijacked the process by sending the letter notifying the charter of the intent to not renew rather than reviewing the decision with the board first.
“The superintendent’s failure to follow due process seems to be intentional to thwart charter school’s renewal,” McCartney said.
District lawyer Erin Jackson said the district followed the exact process dictated by the contract. Greene responded to suggestions of usurping the board’s authority by saying a board review of the intent to not renew had been placed on the agenda but removed once the charter requested a hearing.
In earlier media reports, charter school representatives said the district caught the charter off guard with abrupt news of intention to not renew.
However, Director of District Support Frank Pistella and Teitelbaum both sent letters to Manatee Charter Principal Deborah Tracy, dated Nov. 30 and Dec. 16, warning the charter it was in breach of contract for not inputting student grades.