Fight goes on for local school

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Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013 5:04 pm | Updated: 10:47 pm, Thu May 9, 2013.

It has been a turbulent two weeks surrounding Imagine School in North Port. One side says school leaders have hijacked a school. Those leaders say they're trying to keep a management organization from ripping tax payers and their students off. A lot of allegations filling a Sarasota County courtroom this week.

"They noticed several items that would a breach of the contract in return for the management fees they receive," said principal Justin Matthews.

Roughly a million in tax payer dollars per year says board member Mark Hardin "We feel we are responsible for basically the counties money."

Of course attorneys like Shawn Arnold for the parent company disagree and move to fire the principal and all five board members. Saying it's their school and not the boards. "They have lost the right to continue to operate that school."

Teachers stuck in the middle are asked to sign new contracts. A series of emails to parents from both sides leads to confusion.

In an emergency court hearing early this week a judge rules the schools principal should stay in place for now but is reluctant to rule that a new board can't take over. "This is certainly not an indication of the merits of the case going forward," said Arnold.

At the time Matthews was thrilled with the outcome."We are elated and excited that the judge ruled in favor of our school."

The judge also wants the Sarasota County School District to get involved. School board members say it won't be easy. "There is no clear cut understanding of who owns what and who is responsible for what."

The fight gains attention for it's potential impact on other schools locally, in the state, and perhaps even nationally says local education lawyer Mark Zimmerman "Charter schools and school districts will be watching this case very closely."

They didn't have to wait long. By Thursday the parent company with its new board in place moves to fire the principal and board anyway. The judge says no again. "I think he decided not to decide today. I think he was kind of feeling hamstrung by what he ruled two days ago," says Salvator Scro who is representing Matthews and the board.

"His order was clear in its intent and spirit. What they tried to do was go against that," says Attorney for the parent company Andrew Froman.

Now both sides say they're gearing up for an even bigger fight."Typically a trial of a year or 18 months from the start. We are going to try to get it before the court in a much faster time frame," says Froman.

"We are going to keep doing business like we always have. Hopefully we will continue to do business," says Matthews.

The judge was adamant that things at the school should stay the same until the end of the school year as to not affect learning.

Those with the local board and the principal have until march 10th to answer complaints filed against them to help figure out when the case could go to trial.

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