Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Imagine Dust-Up Unsettles Board

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Imagine Dust-Up Unsettles Board

Article excerpt

BUDGET: If parents pull children from the school, what effect on the district?


With the future of Imagine School at North Port so muddied, school board members worry that a legal fight over control of the school will hurt the district's pocketbook.

The Sarasota County School Board already is planning its budget for the next school year.

If a swath of parents, angered by a lawsuit's pending results, pull their children out of Imagine, that could significantly disrupt the district's spending plan. Some board members also worried about the personal nature of the fight.

"There is a concern in my mind when a school becomes a principal," said board member Shirley Brown, referring to the apparently strong loyalty among many parents to Imagine's embattled leader, Justin Matthews. "We're kind of on the outside, but we do have a dog in the fight. Whatever happens in the courts is going to impact our budget next year, one way or another."

The North Port school -- the largest charter in the district -- gets $8 million in public dollars annually, including $1.05 million from the county's 1-mill school property tax and $466,781 from its 1.5-mill capital funding, said deputy chief financial officer Al Weidner. A mill is a property tax levy of $1 for every $1,000 of a home or parcel's assessed value.

Tuesday's meeting was the school board's first since the high- profile struggle began over Imagine, which has 1,100 students from pre-kindergarten to 10th grade on two campuses off Toledo Blade Boulevard in North Port.

The board members voted 4-0 to allow their attorney to intervene on the board's behalf in the civil suit between parent company Imagine Schools and the North Port charter school.

The legal battle started when the charter's local board voted on Feb. 15 to break off from its Arlington, Va.-based parent company. Four days later, Imagine Schools sued Matthews and the board on nine civil counts, including breach of contract and defamation.

Last week, a judge ruled Matthews and his original board can remain in control, at least until May 31 when school ends.

Circuit Judge Charles Williams also has ordered the two sides to mediation. …

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