Bay District Schools and Panama City leaders address the future of local schools

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - What is the solution to improving Panama City's "low-performing" schools?

During a Thursday morning press conference, Bay District School's superintendent and Panama City's city manager addressed switching to a charter schools system among other options for the future of Panama City schools. (WJHG/WECP)

Panama City Commissioner, Jenna Haligas, said, "First of all let me just state I have never had a child go to a charter school but I can't deny, just like everyone else can't, that they are highly successful. I mean the facts are the facts and numbers are the numbers."

On Thursday, Panama City's City Manager Mark McQueen and Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt held a press conference addressing the issue.

"We have not had any discussions about turning the city schools into charter schools," said Husfelt.

But Wednesday, when speaking with Panama City leaders as we investigated this issue, they said conversations were had, although with whom they did not elaborate.

"I mean there has been conversation about a charter school and making the city a charter school system," said City Manager Mark McQueen on Wednesday.

However, during Thursday's press conference we pressed Superintendent Husfelt to see if he had ever taken part in these conversations.

"But I was told yesterday those conversations had happened," said a WJHG/WECP reporter.

Husfelt said, "not with me". McQueen interjected, "we talked about that last year before the storm" to which Husfelt added, "and I said that, before the storm."

Haligas said the charter school idea is one of several options to turn things around.

"They're called conversion charter schools which means you're not building a new facility, you're not changing a name of a school and you're keeping the kids that you have," said Haligas.

During the press conference, both leaders also highlighted projects in the works to improve schools like Bay High School's new STEM building and fine arts auditorium.

One thing both McQueen and Husfelt agreed on is a concern about the quality of education available to students now and in the future.

When asked if converting to charter schools in the city was an option McQueen said, "I think it's an option that needs to be considered and that's why we need to look at it."

McQueen added the option wouldn't be considered until exhausting all other partnership options with Bay District Schools, and that would take time.

One thing everyone agreed on - There is a lot of improvement needed in Panama City's schools. Exactly how that will happen is uncertain, but officials tell us there will be a public hearing on it before any decisions are made.

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