Like so many families, Debbie Stute moved to Marco to give her kids what she felt was the best education in the county. She expected her daughter to transition painlessly from 5th grade at Tommie Barfield Elementary to Marco Island Charter Middle. Instead, what she learned was that her daughter was now 17th on a waiting list to get in.
“I moved here so my kids could go to school here, we’re working more to pay the higher rent. And now, to get bumped, it’s not fair. There’s never been a waiting list. There are 132 spots for 88 incoming 5th graders,” says a frustrated Stute, who went to MICMS to register her daughter the first week in June.
MICMS principal George Abounader explains the school’s enrollment policy. “Charter schools are open to all students in the county,” and adds that charter schools must comply with the Class Size Reduction Amendment that dictates the number of students a school can accept. To expand beyond the amendment’s limits would result in a fine that can exceed $300,000. He confirms that there are currently 20 students on a waiting list to get into the 6th grade. Public schools can ‘rezone’ kids to allow them to find a different school to attend, charter schools may not.
Stute disagrees most strongly with what she feels was an absence of communication from either Tommie Barfield Elementary or MICMS. “The 5th grade open house [in March] was advertised as ‘come see’ and didn’t say anything about registration. They claim to have made calls and sent mail but I’ve never gotten anything.”
MICMS has a 10 day open enrollment period and Abounader adds that during the March open enrollment all applicants were accepted because the numbers didn’t exceed the school’s space. He says that the school made repeated phone calls to parents and guardians urging them to register during the enrollment period.
Stute is now weighing sending her daughter to Manatee Middle, a ‘C’ rated school an hour away by bus, or trying to find tens of thousands of dollars to enroll her in private school.
Abounader’s own frustration comes from his inability to grow the school and still be in compliance with the CSRA, adding that adding seats is “not as simple a task as it used to be.”
“There’s not a day that goes by that I do not explore some creative solution to this challenge because, in the end, it is a middle school student, and not just a number on a school average scale, who will be impacted by this bureaucratic reality.”