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Bartow Middle is 1 of 6 schools that the Polk County district will turn over to private management.

Polk County (Fla.) district will let private management run 6 poorly performing schools

New state law establishes options for how districts deal with persistently low-performing schools.

The Polk County (Fla.) School District plans to turn over control of six of its worst-performing schools in 2018-19 to a private contractor.

The Lakeland Ledger reports that seeking outside management was the least onerous of several state-mandated options as the district faces pressure to reverse three successive years of D’s or F’s for the six schools.

The affected schools: Bartow Middle, Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Polytech Academy and Lake Marion Creek Middle.

Three contractors have submitted proposals, and more could be forthcoming, district officials say. It’s expected that one company will be chosen to manage all six schools.

The outside management option is set forth in state legislation known as HB 7069 that was enacted last year. It gives school districts three options for turning around a failing school:

•Close the school and transfer students to a higher performing school and monitor their progress for three years.

•Close the school and reopen it as one or more charter schools, each with a governing board that has a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

•Contract with an outside entity with a proven record of effective school management.

No matter which company is chosen, the district says it will maintain some oversight. Officials say it’s too early to tell just how much autonomy will be given to a contractor.

School grades for the current year will be released in June. Any of the six turnaround schools that get a C or better could be given a little more breathing room in making decisions, though they’ll still fall under contract to an outside entity, says Patricia Barnes, the district’s executive principal in the office of school improvement and turnaround.

Some members of the Polk School Board believe that the new state has added an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the job of improving troubled schools. School Board member Billy Townsend says he will not endorse any contract that puts oversight of public schools into private hands.

The Polk School District has joined districts across Florida to mount a legal challenge to the new law.

“This is about nothing more than to destroy public schools because they don’t like them,” Townsend says. “It’s a massive waste of money.”

The state has identified 90 “persistently low-performing” schools in 24 districts. Polk ranks second with 10 schools, followed by Duval with seven. Hillsborough has the most of any other district—20 schools have received three consecutive grades lower than a C.

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