PALMETTO, Fla. (WWSB) - An administrative judge ruled in favor of the Manatee County School District on Friday, finding the district acted appropriately when it took over Lincoln Memorial Academy.
During days of administrative hearings, evidence was presented in court appealing the Florida Department of Education’s decision to hand over the charter school to the district after several financial woes. But the judge ruled in the district’s favor and Lincoln Memorial Academy returned to the public school system.
According to school district officials, they had every intention on keeping the school a charter school. They argue they even gave the former leaders of Lincoln Memorial Academy several chances to work with the district to keep it open as a charter school.
But many are now left wondering what’s next for the school and if it will ever become a charter school again.
“The School Board of Manatee County has repeatedly stated that it wants Lincoln Memorial Academy presently as it’s operating to remain a charter school. The intention was for that particular site to remain a charter school, however there is a particular process," says Manatee School District’s General Counsel Mitchell Teitelbaum.
In order for Lincoln Memorial Academy to become a charter school again, someone would have to submit a charter school application to the Manatee County School District.
“A viable application that will have the financials that will show solvency, success, and curriculum tied to the Florida Sunshine Standards," says Teitelbaum.
All the qualifications the school district and the Department of Education say were not met by the school’s former leaders.
“You have to have enough money in reserve to be able to start your operation, pay your staff. In contrast, LMA, by the time they finished, they were in a million and a half dollars in debt in what was essentially a $3.5 million budget," says Teitelbaum.
Evidence presented showed the school’s former leaders failed to pay crucial bills impacting the health and welfare of the students.
“The water bill, the insurance for athletics, they had not paid their food bill, food itself was not being screened for allergens, employees were not paid over a quarter a million dollars, employees that was paying into the retirement system, that money was not paid for their retirement," says Teitelbaum.
School district officials say the charter school application is due by February and say so far no one has claimed interest in the school yet.
If approved that application could be expedited and the school could run as a charter school by the 2020-2021 school year.