Elia wants to close 3 popular charter schools

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida -- 10 Investigates has confirmed Mary Ellen Elia, the superintendent for the School District of Hillsborough County (SDHC), will attempt to close three schools this fall operated by for-profit company Charter Schools USA.

Elia sent 90-day warning letters to Henderson Hammock, Winthrop, and Woodmont K-8 charter schools, warning them they "have not exercised continuing oversight over the operations of these schools."

Woodmont Charter School, a "C" school last year and home to 615 students in Temple Terrace, is led by Chairman Rod Jurado, whose LinkedIn page describes him as a management consultant who can "help improve your business processes & increase profits."

Jurado also is the chairman at Winthrop Charter, an "A" school and home to 1,239 students in Riverview. And his LinkedIn page also indicates he is at the helm of Henderson Hammock, a "B" school and home to 874 students. However, the school's webpage indicates Ken Haiko is the chairman, even though he is also the chairman of numerous other Charter Schools USA schools around the country.

LETTER: Notice to Haiko on charter terminations
LETTER: Notice to Jurado on termination

Local charter school opponents, claiming for-profit schools hurt public education, have indicated charter schools' boards are supposed to be local and involved in the day-to-day operations of the school.

However, Jurado and Charter Schools USA pointed to their successes and fired back at Elia after 10 Investigates obtained the letters through public records requests prior to the schools receiving them.

"I find it interesting that the media received an unsigned letter of this magnitude prior to me receiving it," Jurado said. "The allegations are not valid in any way. We have formally communicated our governance structure. This is the governance structure that the school board themselves requested and approved. Obviously, we believe this is ridiculous and has absolutely no merit.

"This is a hostile ploy by the superintendent to deflect interest away from the fact that the district's schools performed so abysmally this year."

Jurado pointed to Hillsborough County's 23 "D" grades and 7 "F" grades as a sign of the school district's failures, however, Elia supporters have responded that the majority of the county's 224 public schools performed well.

"Ms. Elia is making a pathetic attempt to undermine high performing charter schools and attempt to take away the choice parents have made that is best for her students," Jurado said. "I am appalled that she would put her political interest ahead of the best interests of the students. We will do everything in our power to protect the students and parents who have chosen these schools and we will exercise every legal means of stopping this nonsense.

"Furthermore, we are certain that Ms. Elia will have thousands of outraged parents who will not only be demanding answers, but will be sure to make it clear to the school board that this silly waste of time and taxpayers dollars is not acceptable," he added. "Our local not-for-profit board has been approved since day one by this school district."

Charter Schools USA can request a hearing with the school district within 14 days, which could change the course of the termination process.

The latest Elia/Charter Schools USA scrap coincides with a second attempt to open a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base. Its initial proposal was rejected by the district, but the debateensues. Charter Schools USA stands to gain as the potential operator of the school.

In recent years, the company has enjoyed policy success in the state capital, with dozens of lobbyists and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions having an impact.

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Find 10 Investigates reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.


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