JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It has been a struggle for the Duval County Public Schools.
Saving failing schools Ribault, Raines, Andrew Jackson high schools, and Northshore K-8 came down to a vote for an EMO, an education management organization, Thursday night.
School Board Chair W.C. Gentry, an Andrew Jackson alum, said today he feels it is the best plan. "We were all in agreement with Duval partners (the EMO), until the notion we could do something different," said Gentry.
The alternate plan was to close the four schools and reopen them with new identities - a plan Gentry called flawed. "That won't work and closed really means closed," he said.
The district would have lost $700,000 and more, Gentry said.
Board member Betty Burney voted against the EMO. Two of the schools are in her district. She said she would have preferred the close and reopen approach, which was used in Broward County.
"I think we took an option off the table when we decided (on the EMO)...It takes it (schools) out of the community number..."
The EMO will be operated by the recently formed nonprofit Duval Partners Inc., which Burney said changes the meaning of public schools.
"An EMO is a privatization of schools; I think every child deserves a quality public education," she said.
Cost was also an issue for Burney, she said. "As a board member we have a fiduciary responsibility, and I don't vote on something until I know the cost and that cost was unknown," said Burney.
Gentry said the board will be responsible for the EMO support costs.
"There's always a cost to everything. The EMO is a nonprofit and I guarantee you everybody on that board does not want to be paid," he said. "But we will contract with them to provide services to the district, just like we contract with other folks."
Services might include, selecting principals, instructional materials and budgeting experts.
While the board is divided on the EMO solution, they're united on saving the four failing schools from being shuttered by the state.
Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said this is the same plan presented to the state a few weeks ago, but it was changed to give the nonprofit limited authority.
Some of the funds now allocated to the four schools will now be redirected to pay the EMO's expenses, he said.
Pratt-Dannals is convinced they won't need it - that the latest FCAT scores will pull four schools out of their failing status - but the district had to have a plan by May 2 or face sanctions.
He said the district will know the future of the schools after Dec. 1. The schools' ratings are based on the FCAT, graduation rate, college readiness and percentage of students in acceleration classes.