SCHOOL BOARD OF ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Appellant,
SOMERSET ACADEMY, INC. and SOMERSET COLLEGE PREP MIDDLE SCHOOL, Appellees.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the State of Florida, Department of Education; Pam
Stewart, Commissioner, DOE No. 2015-3228.
Johnathan A. Ferguson, Fort Pierce, for appellant.
J. Aiello of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A., West Palm
Beach, for appellees.
School Board of St. Lucie County ("School Board")
appeals from an order of the State Board of Education, which
allows Somerset Academy, Inc. ("Somerset") to
establish and operate a new charter school. The order
overturned the School Board's denial of Somerset's
application to replicate a high-performing charter school.
The School Board had denied Somerset's charter school
application after determining that the application failed to
comply with the statutory requirements for replication of a
high-performing charter school. Because clear and convincing
evidence supported the School Board's denial of
Somerset's charter school application, we reverse.
August 2015, Somerset filed an application with the St. Lucie
County School Board to establish a middle school that would
replicate a high-performing charter school that it was
currently operating in Broward County. The application was
made pursuant to section 1002.331, Florida Statutes (2015),
which allows "[a] high-performing charter school [to]
submit an application pursuant to s. 1002.33(6) in any school
district in the state to establish and operate a new charter
school that will substantially replicate its educational
program." § 1002.331(3)(a), Fla. Stat. (2015). The
proposed school, Somerset College Prep Academy Middle School
("Somerset Prep") was to be modeled after Somerset
Academy Middle School, Chapel Trail ("Chapel
Trail"), and serve grades 6-8.
School Board evaluation team reviewed Somerset's
application and accompanying materials, interviewed
Somerset's board members, and utilized the Florida
Charter School Application Evaluation Instrument for
high-performing replications during the evaluation process.
The Evaluation Instrument, which was adopted by the Florida
Department of Education under Florida Administrative Code
Rule 6A-6.0786, sets out twenty standards that a school board
must use as part of its review of a charter school
replication application. See § 1002.33(6)(b),
Fla. Stat. (2015).
completing its review of Somerset's application, the
evaluation team determined that Somerset failed to
demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that it was
replicating its existing high-performing middle school in
Broward County pursuant to statutory criteria. Among other
things, the application failed to show any significant
involvement in the establishment and operation of the
proposed charter school by those involved in establishing and
operating the Chapel Trail School. In addition, the
application failed to meet statutory requirements for
demonstrating, among other things, adequate financing and
staff support for its proposed educational programs and
operational plan, an acceptable reading curriculum and
differentiated strategies, equal opportunities for students
with moderate to severe disabilities, effective governance
and management, and methods for encouraging the use of
innovative learning methods.
on the Evaluation Instrument prepared by the evaluation team,
the Superintendent recommended that the School Board deny the
September 22, 2015, the School Board held a public meeting at
which it considered Somerset's application. After
reviewing all the materials submitted to the School Board,
hearing testimony from Somerset and community
representatives, and considering the evaluation team's
recommendation, the School Board unanimously voted to deny
Somerset's application. On October 1, 2015, the School
Board sent Somerset a Notice of Denial letter, with
supporting documents and transcripts detailing numerous
deficiencies in the application and outlining the reasons for
denial of the application.
appealed the School Board's denial of its charter
application to the State Board of Education. In support of
its denial, the School Board provided the State Board of
Education with a record of the materials it considered at the
hearing on the charter school application. In February 2016,
after hearing oral argument from both parties, but without
further discussion or questions, the State Board of Education
voted to grant Somerset's appeal and overturn the School
Board's denial. In March 2016, the Commissioner of
Education, Pam Stewart, acting on behalf of the State Board
of Education, issued a three-page final order cursorily
stating the State Board's reasons for granting the
appeal. The School Board appealed.
review of the State Board's reversal of the School
Board's decision requires us to determine whether the
School Board's denial of the high-performing replication
charter application is supported by clear and convincing
evidence. Sch. Bd. of Seminole Cty. v. Renaissance
Charter Sch., Inc., 113 So.3d 72, 76-77 (Fla. 5th DCA
2013); Sch. Bd. of Polk Cty. Fla. v. Renaissance Charter
Sch., Inc., 147 So.3d 1026, 1029 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014).
appeal, the School Board argues that it demonstrated by clear
and convincing evidence a valid basis for denying
Somerset's application: the application did not
materially comply with the requirements of section
1002.33(6(b)3.b., Florida Statutes (2015). As such, ...