Officials clarify charter school rumors


PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Panama City and Bay District Schools officials held a joint news conference on Thursday.

The purpose was to correct a news report from a competing local station that claimed that Panama City leaders are considering turning its area schools into charter schools.  

“There has been no meetings, no emails, no discussions of turning it into a charter,” said BDS Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “I don’t know how that blossomed into a ‘news story.’”

Both Husfelt and City Manager of Panama City, Mark McQueen, said all conversations about potential new charter schools in the city happened before Hurricane Michael.

“We would not be putting $50 million-plus into Bay High School if we thought the city was going to take it over as a charter,” Husfelt said in response to the report’s claims.

McQueen agreed and said it isn’t possible for the city to turn current public schools into charter schools.

“We are not legally allowed to take the facilities of the Bay District Schools,” said McQueen.

Statistics show the schools in Panama City are among the lower-ranked schools in the district, which Husfelt said is largely related to the housing crisis in the area. 

McQueen said the city is continuing to work to hire an education consultant to assist the city in coming up with new solutions to help bridge the gap. 

“We’re all about the same thing,” said McQueen, “which is ensuring that children get the highest degree of educational opportunities afforded to them.”

Some of the solutions that have been thought of so far include “providing students in Panama City with wraparound services including mental health and behavioral services, after-school programming, mentoring programs, crisis interventions and tutoring,” as well as “dedicating city resources to provide wraparound services and additional staff to focus on improving schools in Panama City, such as an assistant superintendent for Panama City Schools.” 

These and others are included in Panama City’s Economic Development Plan Draft from September of 2019.

Husfelt said he is on board with several of those solutions, but charter schools were never a part of these recent conversations. 

“We haven’t been meeting on it,” said Husfelt. “This is the first conversation we’ve actually had about it being brought up.”

McQueen said that while he thinks that “it is an option that needs to be considered,” they “would never be able to implement a charter school system anywhere in the near future.” He also said he would rather have the partnership with Bay District Schools and exhaust all other options for improving Panama City area schools before considering the charter school idea.

To that point, he said city officials are resuming the search for an education consultant over the next several months after leaders rejected the original educational consultant idea when they received only one bid in September of 2019.

You can watch the news conference in its entirety in the video below:

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