Imagine school future headed to court

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SARASOTA COUNTY - A courtroom hearing is scheduled for Tuesday which may decide the future of Imagine School in North Port. The local governing body which oversees the school has decided to break off from the Imagine parent company. However, that organization claims they can't.

A Sarasota County judge will hear the two sides.

Mark Hardin is one of the six members on the local board which oversees the school. He says it was a long and difficult process voting to cut ties with the larger organization. "We don't want to go through this but we feel we are responsible for basically the county's money."

Hardin says the Virginia based organization was simply not providing enough services in return for the $72,000 of taxpayer money it gets per month. "The money that is coming from the county, what good is it doing for our kids? Your contract says you will provide this, this, and this. Did you provide this, this, and this? Our legal team seems to feel we are pretty comfortable in that position."

The school's principal, Justin Matthews, resigned and was then hired by Hardin and the board to be the CEO of the newly re-named Sarasota Preparatory School. 

However, Shawn Arnold, the attorney for the national organization says they started the school and do provide services and according to their contract they can't just be done away with. "There is not a provision in which Imagine can be removed. Not only did they not follow the procedure they were required to but they took a step they are not allowed to do."

What a Sarasota County judge will decide and how long it will take is of course yet to be determined. "Any time you have litigation is hard to see with any clarity what is going to happen. We certainly hope we will have some sort of direction from the court."

Monday the Sarasota County School District declined our request for an interview but did say they have been to the school last week and already this week to observe the situation. So far reporting that everything is calm, teachers are delivering instruction, students are engaged in the classroom, and all appears orderly.

Hardin says it wasn't an easy choice but a fight they have to make. "We want to get their attention. We basically want to get our moneys worth. This is the only way we feel we can do that."

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 at the Sarasota County Courthouse in downtown Sarasota.

School district officials say they'll be on campus Tuesday to check on FCAT test administration. They'll also have their attorney in the courtroom as an observer.