For the first time ever, a Florida school district is poised to relinquish control of all of its traditional public schools.
Under a plan approved today by the state Board of Education, Jefferson County Schools will combine its lone elementary and middle-high schools on a single campus.
It’s set to recruit a charter school operator to take over the combined institution in a matter of weeks.
“We are excited about this charter school change,” said Superintendent Marianne Arbulu, who was elected to lead the troubled district in November. “I think we have a community united behind this, because it’s just impossible for us to continue the way we’ve been over the last decade.”
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart outlined Jefferson’s state of financial and academic emergency. It enrolls slightly more than 700 students, a decline of nearly 400 from five years ago. It receives the second-highest per-pupil spending in the state, but has spent its way into a fiscal condition that requires emergency oversight. It has some of the lowest student achievement in the state, and has spent the past decade trapped in a cycle of perpetual academic turnarounds.
“The educational deficiencies are long-term and systemic,” Stewart said.
Arbulu said the district is courting at least four potential charter school operators. If some show interest, she said, the district will pick one that has succeeded educating low-income children of color and shows “a demonstrated ability to be innovative and nimble” as the school board oversees an unprecedented collaboration.
The takeover is expected to happen on a tight timeline. Under the turnaround plan approved today, the district is expected to receive and vet charter school applications by the first week of March.
“We need to be aggressive on this because time is important,” Arbulu told the board. “I have a lot of teachers who are in limbo, and that is no good place for them. We are going to go all-out to get these negotiations signed, sealed and done so we can move on.”
Jefferson County is a high-poverty rural district east of Tallahassee. A charter school has opened there before, but it failed. Bill Brumfield, a former superintendent who now chairs the local school board, told the state board the new operator would have one key advantage: Full backing from the district’s elected leaders.
This is a developing story. We will provide continued coverage over the coming days.