Tampa, Florida -- Thousands of kids are getting ready to head back to school in just a couple weeks, but for parents and kids at three Hillsborough County charter schools, it's hard to make plans with the threat of a possible school closure looming over them.

10 Investigates first told you last week that Henderson Hammock, Winthrop, and Woodmont K-8 Charter Schools all received a warning letter from Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia. The district is concerned the charter schools don't have a local governing board making decisions.

SEE ALSO: Elia wants to close 3 popular charter schools

"It's just very sad they'd focus on shutting down the school, when it's doing so much better," says mother Katrina Osborne.

Osborne's twin sons will be first graders at Woodmont Charter School. She can't imagine finding a new school for the boys, if the district does indeed close Woodmont, Winthrop and Henderson Hammock in 90 days. It would impact around 2,700 kids.

"It would really be a very poor transition for them in the early stages that I'd be very disappointed," says Osborne.

"Charter schools should be run by a local board who has a commitment to the community, who live in the community, and care about the kids in the community," says Steve Hegarty from Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The district says the problem isn't how the three charter schools are performing, it's who's in charge to make decisions about the kids.


Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA is the for-profit group that runs the schools and gets money from the district. While, it's provided names of local advisory board representatives, the district is demanding to know who's really pulling the strings.

"We have reason to believe it's not being run by the local people. It's being run by the national group, the for-profit group. We just want to straighten that out," says Hegarty.

While the district and group battle that out, Woodmont 4th grade teacher Bridget Burns is trying to get the classroom set for students.

"It's nerve-racking, because the future right now is a little uncertain. But, I'm positive that we will be here," says Burns.

"The governing board, that's between the powers that be. Our job at hand is to educate students, and that's what we need to focus on," says Woodmont Principal Steve Epstein.

The district is holding firm to the letter and says the Charter Schools' operating group needs to reach out to answer the superintendent's question or the district will take steps to close the three charter schools in October.

Letter from Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia to Bay Area Charter Foundation Board Chair Rod Jurado (pdf)
Letter from Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia to Bay Area Charter Foundation Board Chair Ken Haiko (pdf)

10 News asked if Charter Schools USA and the Foundations Boards will work with the district. Here is spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds' response:

"The boards just received the letters – one on Friday afternoon and one this afternoon, so they still have to meet to discuss their alternatives. I can tell you that the boards' focus will always be to provide high quality educational and academic options that students don't otherwise have. With that in mind, I'm sure the boards will do whatever they need to do to make sure parents continue to have a choice in their children's education in Hillsborough County. They'll work through the system and hopefully will be able to resolve this issue amicably on behalf of the students. This is not about what's best for the adults – it's about what's best for the students."

There are 47 charter schools throughout Hillsborough County. As of June, 202,671 students were enrolled district-wide. Of those, 13,785 were in charter schools. That's less than 7 percent of all students.