[UPDATE] Residents Wait To See If Board Will Approve Charter School

By: Greg Gullberg Email
By: Greg Gullberg Email

[UPDATE] - Hamilton Co., FL - May 31, 2012 -

Citizens in White Springs are caught in limbo. The Hamilton County School Board has about one month to accept or reject the application to make South Hamilton Elementary School into a charter school.

This all started because Central Hamilton Elementary in Jasper had been failing for too long. The Florida Department of Education forced the school board to make a decision. So they voted to close South because it's physically smaller than Central.

In April the majority of parents and teachers voted to make South a charter school. But before the application can go to the Department of Education, it has to be approved by the school board. The board has until July 15th to either approve or reject it.

There's no clear answer at this time how the board will rule.
But if they reject the charter application there is still an appeals process citizens can resort to.

The Hamilton County School Board has hired a consultant from Sarasota who will make a recommendation as to whether to accept or reject the application.

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[UPDATE] - Hamilton Co., FL - April 24, 2012 -

The results are in and parents and teachers in Hamilton County, Florida voted to change White Springs Elementary School into a charter school Tuesday.

Parents and teachers turned out to vote in impressive numbers. So many in fact the polling boxes over-flowed. Parents and teachers proved that they believe the best way to save South Hamilton Elementary School is to convert it to a charter school, that way it can't be closed by the school board.

Organizers reported an astonishing 78% voter turn out. 115 ballots were cast. Even more striking, there were only three "No" votes.
And two of those were by default because the teacher didn't vote either way.

Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg caught up with some of the parents while they voted.

"I have a four year old daughter... and I want her to stay here in the community," said Toshika Reid, parent of three at the school.

"The children love it, the activities they have and it's just a family school," said Rachael Webb, parent of one at the school.

This all started because Central Hamilton Elementary in Jasper had been failing for too long. The Florida Department of Education forced the school board to make a decision. They voted to close South because it's physically smaller than Central.

Even though the vote passed, that doesn't necessarily mean these parents and educators are going to get what they want. They still have to send the application off to the Department of Education. But first it has to be approved by the school board. In a recent interview, Gullberg asked Superintendent Martha Butler if she plans to approve the application.

"I think there's a lot of unknowns right now. I'm more concerned right now about the security of my teachers, their job security and I'm concerned about the educational process of our children. And if all of those things can be met by a charter school then I'll support it," Butler told Gullberg.

Now that the vote has passed, if the board rejects the charter application there is still an appeals process citizens can resort to.

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[UPDATE] - Hamilton Co., FL - April 24, 2012 -

Parents and educators came out in impressive numbers and passed the measure to convert South Hamilton Elementary School into a charter school.

Teachers: 12 "Yes"; 2 "No"
(Zero teachers voted "No" but two did not vote and their vote becomes "No" by default)

Parents: 100 "Yes"; 1 "No" (two were ineligible)

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[UPDATE] - Hamilton Co., FL - April 24, 2012 - Noon -

We'll soon find out whether parents and teachers in White Springs, Florida want their elementary school to become a charter school.

It seems converting to a charter school is the only way to save South Hamilton Elementary School now, before it's closed down by the Hamilton County School Board.

Voting started last Tuesday, April 17th at South Hamilton Elementary where parents and school staff have been making their voices heard all week. This all started because Central Hamilton Elementary in Jasper had been failing for too long.

The Florida Department of Education forced the school board to make a decision. They voted to close South because it's physically smaller than Central.

Parents and school staff will have to vote and each beat a 50% margin. Then they will apply for federal funding, but the application still has to be approved by the school board.

There are still questions as to whether the school board will approve the deal, but if the vote passes, and they reject it there is still an appeals process citizens can resort to.

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[UPDATE] - Hamilton Co., FL - April 17, 2012 -

Throw a stone in any direction in White Springs and you'll find residents ready to sound off.

"The town's really coming together to save the school," says Freddie Ogburn.

"We really want to keep White Springs Elementary School open which is now South Hamilton," says Katrina Dye.

"We feel that they would have a better chance of learning in a small school," says Willie Newsome.

Voting started Tuesday at South Hamilton Elementary where parents and school staff are making their voices heard. They're voting on whether to change South Hamilton Elementary School into a charter school, because if they don't it will be closed by the school board.

This all started because Central Hamilton Elementary in Jasper had been failing for too long. The Florida Department of Education forced the school board to make a decision. They voted to close South because it's physically smaller than Central.

Parents and school staff will have to vote and each beat a 50% margin. Then they will apply for funding, but the application still has to be approved by the school board.

Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg asked Superintendent Martha Butler if she would approve the application.

"I think there are a lot of unknowns right now. I'm more concerned right now about the security of my teachers, their job security and I'm concerned about the educational process of our children. And if all of those things can be met by a charter school then I'll support it," Butler told Gullberg.

Voting continues at South Hamilton Elementary School until Tuesday, April 24th. If the vote passes, but the school board rejects the funding application there is still an appeals process citizens may resort to.

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[UPDATE] - Hamilton Co., FL - April 04, 2012 -

Plans are moving forward to save a Hamilton County Elementary School by changing it into a charter school.

White Springs, Florida is generally a quiet town, but these days residents are buzzing about one thing.

"The town's really coming together to save the school even if that requires becoming a charter school at this point," said concerned resident Freddie Ogburn.

This all started because Central Hamilton Elementary in Jasper had been failing for too long. The Florida Department of Education forced the school board to make a decision. They voted to close South because it's not as big as Central.

But not everyone on the board agrees with the decision.

"I think it's unfair for them to close an A-school to bus children to a low performing school, that's historically low performing," said concerned school board member Johnny Bullard.

In a meeting Wednesday night, an expert from Polk County, Florida explained how the process works of changing a school into a charter school. She says parents and teachers will have to vote and each beat a 50% margin. Then they will apply for funding. Florida is one of two U.S. states that receive federal grants for charter schools, but it has become highly competitive.

But before any of that can happen the application has to be approved by the school board. Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg asked Superintendent Martha Butler if she would approve it.

"I think there's a lot of unknowns right now. I'm more concerned right now about the security of my teachers, their job security and I'm concerned about the educational process of our children. And if all of those things can be met by a charter school then I'll support it," Butler told Gullberg.

The vote for whether to turn South Hamilton into a charter school is April 17th through 24th.

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[Update] - Hamilton Co., FL - Feb. 23, 2012 -

Concerned parents are signing a petition to make South Hamilton Elementary School a Charter School.

They file in to sign their names. With a strike of a pen they protest a Hamilton County School Board decision to close the top performing elementary school in the district to save the worst. They tell Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg that the answer is a Charter School.

"We really want to keep White Springs Elementary School open which is now South Hamilton, but if we can't we're going to go ahead and do the Charter School instead," Concerned parent Katrina Dye tells Gullberg.

"We feel that they would have a better chance of learning in a small school, in that setting," says concerned citizen Willie Newsome.

The school board voted to close South Hamilton in a January 24th meeting. The State forced them to close one of the schools because Central has been failing for so long. The board chose Central because it's simply bigger than South.

Organizers welcomed anyone to come and sign the petitions Thursday. It didn't matter whether they were a parent, teacher or just a concerned citizen.

Organizers say they only needed less than 10 signatures to move forward. Next they'll send a letter of intent to the school board and initiate secret ballots to go to parents and teachers.

Some parents like Katrina Dye are getting creative. She's organizing a fish fry fundraiser for March 3rd to help with legal expenses.

There's a chance this situation can be avoided altogether if Central Hamilton Elementary is able to raise it's Department of Education grade to a "C".

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[Update] - Hamilton Co., FL - Feb. 02, 2012 -

In a White Springs town hall meeting Mayor Helen Miller lays out plans to fight a controversial school board decision.
The board wants to close the best elementary school in the district to save the worst.
The most dramatic strategy to save the school would be separating South from the district's charter and making it, it's own Charter School.

"The community is very serious, and I am very serious that we're going to be moving forward and finding a solution that works so we have quality education for the children in White Springs," White Springs Mayor, Dr. Helen Miller tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg.

She also plans to reach out to adjacent school districts to discuss joining with them.
And they're petitioning the Florida Department of Education to overturn the plan.
The school board voted to close South last week after the State forced them to take action because Central has been failing for so long.

Superintendent Martha Butler says she appreciates the parent's concerns but it would cost too many tax payer dollars to keep South open because Central is so much bigger.

Mayor Miller says that step one is to try and negotiate an agreement with the Hamilton County school board but many believe it may already be too late for that seeing as how the deadline set by the Florida Department of Education to put a plan in place was February first.

Residents say they are especially adamant about saving South Hamilton Elementary because it is a designated sight on the National Historic Register.

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[Update] - Hamilton Co., FL - Jan. 26, 2012 -

Indignant parents and teachers in White Springs, Florida meet with city representatives trying to hash out a plan to keep South Hamilton Elementary school open by any means necessary.

Parents and representatives don't feel their voices were heard in Tuesday's school board meeting, now they plan to take matters into their own hands.
Even if that means pulling South Hamilton Elementary out of the Hamilton County School System.
Much like reverse school consolidation, they're toying with the idea of starting their own charter.

In attendance at the meeting was Johnny Bullard, a school board member, but also an opponent of the board's plan.
Bullard tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg that while he respects the board's members and the superintendent, he ardently disagrees with their decision.

"I think it's very unfair to shut down a high performing school. And for those students to be bused to one that is low performing... to me there is something wrong with that picture," Bullard told Gullberg.

South Hamilton is being forced to close to save the failing Central Hamilton Elementary School.
Florida Department of Education representatives say Central has been at rock bottom for so long that the district is now forced to take action.
And that plan of action is to close South Hamilton and roll all those students into Central.

Concerned parents like Ginger Powell are very nervous about the quality of education their children will receive at Central.

"I don't think it's fair for either set of children, from Central or South, it's just either way you look at it the children are involved and it's not fair to the children," Powell tells Gullberg.

The school board ruled in October that Central , the failing school, would close and those students would be sent to South Hamilton.
But Tuesday the board reversed that decision to save tax payer dollars because Central is simply bigger than South and better equipped for the surge of extra students.

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[Update] - Hamilton Co., FL - Jan. 24, 2012 -

Parents in Hamilton County, Florida speak out in a special school board meeting called to announce plans to close the best elementary school in the district and move its students to its worst.
Concerned parents packed the auditorium Tuesday night trying to understand why a top performing elementary school, South Hamilton Elementary, is being forced to close to save a failing school, Central Hamilton Elementary.
The school board having to explain that the state is leaving them no choice but to consolidate.
And the best plan seems to be sending all those students to the failing school when you look at the dollars and cents of it.

Parents express fear for their children's quality of education, overcrowding and the distance of their child's daily commutes.

"Your efforts will simply result in a bigger, more astonishing failure than the one we already have," says Vice Mayor Mackenzie at a podium echoed by an uproar of applause.

Superintendent Martha Butler explains that the facilities of the failing school are simply better equipped to take on a surge of students and to keep the "A" performing school instead could cost as much as $500,000 in renovations.

"If we move South Hamilton to Central Hamilton we spend zero capitol dollars. In other words we can walk right in the first day of school and house those students at Central Hamilton," Superintendent Martha Butler tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg.

This is all happening right now because of a February first dead line to take action.
But there's still a chance to avoid the situation altogether.
If Central Hamilton Elementary can raise its grade from an "F" to a "C" by the time that the status comes out in the summer, than neither school will have to close at all.

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- Hamilton Co., FL - October 24, 2011 -

Parents picket to save South Hamilton Elementary School Monday.
They're afraid the failing school, Central Hamilton, will jeopardize their children's education.

"It's just not fair to our kids," says Towanna Jelks, parent of two South Elementary students.

In a school board meeting, plans are announced to close Central if it doesn't improve.
The student body will be added to South Hamilton.
South is an "A" school, according to the FL. Dept of Education
Central is an "F".
Superintendent Martha Butler says joining the schools will drop South to a "B".
Parents aren't happy about that.

There's a way to avoid the situation all together.
The FL. Dept of Education says if Central Hamilton can raise its grade to a "C" by mid-June, they won't have to close at all.

If the schools are forced to merge, Central will simply cease to exist.
Parents are concerned about crowding with Central's population being nearly twice that of South.
Superintendent Butler says 10 mobile classrooms will be added to accommodate the students.
But other parents are concerned about behavioral issues.
They say Central has a bad reputation.
"And our children are now going to be exposed to trouble, fights, stuff they're not used to," says Nicole Lee, parent of a South Hamilton student.
If Central Hamilton doesn't make a passing grade by mid-June, they will have to close the school and shuffle students immediately before school starts again late August.


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