Six Polk schools at risk of being turned over to private sector

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, February 08, 2018, 6:38 PM EST

A half dozen of the worst-performing schools in Polk County will be turned over to an external operator if they do not get a "C" grade by the end of the current school year, according to Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

  • Schools have received "D", "F" grades past 3 years
  • Current law allows districts to turn failing schools over to external operators
  • School grades come out in June

Those six schools -- Bartow Middle, Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Polytech Academy and Lake Marion Creek Middle -- have earned D’s or F’s for the past three years.

Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069 into law last year, which gives districts three options for dealing with failing schools: close the school, make it a charter school or hire an external operator.

"The State of Florida is micromanaging the district,” said Marianne Capoziello, Polk Education Association President. “We have a superintendent that is working to move our students forward.”

Superintendent Byrd said the state mandate does not kick in if those schools get their grades up to a C, which is the district's goal.

"The main message I want to get out to our community is that when these schools do make the grade of a "C", they're not going to be in the hands of an external management company,” she said. “We've changed some of the leadership. Some teachers that really are passionate about wanting to be in there and the work that we're doing in those buildings is very targeted.”

Byrd said if the district is forced to choose one of the state mandate options, they’ll hire an external operator.

"With an external operator, once you get into the school… you work with them,” she said. “If they're willing to relinquish those schools back, when you make that 'C' grade, they're ours back and that's what we're looking for.”

Parent Travis Thompson, whose son attends Lake Alfred Polytech Academy, said the state should not be meddling in local matters, especially when they’re not providing funding for the external operator.

"Every contractor that I've ever known made a lot of money,” he said. “I would just as soon see if we can fix the situation we've got, without bringing in somebody else and paying them to do it."

Thompson said Lake Alfred Polytech Academy became a magnet school last year, and has a new principal who’s doing a great job turning the school around.

"It hurt me to see this come out and feel like they were being threatened,” he said. “I'm like, that's not right."

Byrd said the district will get the 2017-18 school grades in June.