School Board and Long at odds over business program

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

An interlocal agreement to support a business mentoring program at Loften High School raised questions and concerns among Alachua County School Board members Tuesday after a county commissioner's plans to begin a entrepreneurial charter school were revealed.

Alachua County Commissioner Rodney J. Long said the mentoring program was conceptualized to be a stand-alone charter school from the beginning.

The School Board unanimously approved the interlocal agreement with the city of Gainesville, Alachua County and the School Board in support of the mentoring program at Loften High School's Academy of Business Ownership. The School Board's role in the agreement is to provide the curriculum for the academy.

The city and county are contributing money to pay for the program and a business loan fund aimed at setting the program's graduates up with small business loans after they graduate from high school and college.

Several School Board members said Tuesday that they supported the program at Loften, but seemed wary of Long's proposal, which could put Loften in direct competition with the charter school. Long, however, said that the program was always supposed to be an independent charter school — a concept that School Board members apparently weren't on the same page about.

School Board member Wes Eubank pointed out recent woes involving failed charter schools in the county.

"I wonder if Mr. Long understands the complexities of running a charter school," Eubank said.

Long, however, told The Sun in a phone interview that the mentoring program was not designed to be exclusive to Loften and that his plan to eventually open the Entrepreneurial Business Institute charter school has remained the same since it was first conceptualized in 2003.

"This has been talked about for years," Long said. "The program was originally housed at Eastside before it had magnet programs. Then the School Board changed its emphasis and moved all the magnet programs to Loften. This program has lost its drive, its thrust, its focus and its direction at Loften."

By creating the charter school, Long said he's not taking away the program from Loften because it wasn't at the school to begin with.

The School Board didn't seem to view it that way.

School Board members Tina Pinkoson and Eileen Roy expressed concern that the School Board was laying the groundwork for the public school program that could be taken to or replicated by a charter school, diminishing opportunities for students who decide to stay at Loften instead of going to the charter school.

But Long disagreed.

"This is a 'we' program, not a School Board program," Long said. "If everyone (in the agreement) does their job, we'll have our first bit of evidence in 10 years to see if we can grow our own entrepreneurs and reduce poverty."

In other business, the School Board approved a $515,000 bid to replace the fire alarm system at Santa Fe High School. The old fire alarm system is being updated to help better protect students and to help reduce false fire alarms.

J.A. Standridge Construction of Newberry won the bid and the new fire alarm system should be up and running by Aug. 13.

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