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Embattled Pinellas Charter Schools Given Termination Notice

May 18, 2016

The Pinellas County School Board Tuesday unanimously voted to issue a 90-day notice of termination to four charter schools.

Until recently, three of those schools were run by the same management company that was just indicted in North Florida. Earlier this month, a grand jury charged Newpoint Education Partners with grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime.

The company oversaw Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg and Newpoint Pinellas Academy in Clearwater.

A packed room of Windsor parents testified for more than two hours, pleading with the board to give a newly formed coalition a chance to turn the schools around.

Dorothy Dulau has a child in kindergarten at Windsor. She says if the school folds she will have no choice but to send her son to their zoned school, something she does not want to do.

"There is no other place to put us,” she said. “All the wait lists are full for fundamental schools and even special assignment seats are full, so there really is no other option then to send us to an overcrowded school.”

Windsor student Lucas Tucker provided a brief moment of levity during his testimony by saying his mother made him come to the board meeting. But his sentiment was similar to the 40-plus parents that asked the board for more time.

When I ask you to keep Windsor open I’m not asking for myself,” he said. “I’m asking for my 8-year old little brother who goes to this school and for the 750 other students that go here with him.”

Despite recent activities like an overhaul of its board and the submission of a new budget after midnight Tuesday, Windsor Prep simply ran out of time before the scheduled vote.

Assistant School Board Attorney Heather Wallace said the time constraint didn't give her the opportunity to review the revised budget or a release that a Newpoint manager may have issued forgiving the schools of all the debt owed by the schools to Newpoint.

“I haven’t received a final copy of the release,” she said. “But the releases that I have received to date still leave me with questions as to whether all the debt has been released.”

Board member Linda Lerner said she sympathized with parents but had a responsibility to taxpayers.

"You're asking for a fresh start and I can support that but as a board member I have nothing in front of me that tells me what that looks like legally and financially."

Fellow School Board member Ken Peluso echoed her response.

“My heart goes out to you,” he said. “As a parent and a grandparent I cannot imagine the anxiety you’re feeling right now. You have been victimized and it’s upsetting, it’s sad and quite frankly it makes me mad but however as a board member, to not go forward with this action today would not only be irresponsible it would be downright negligent.”

The schools will have 90 days to submit a corrective action plan.

District Superintendent Mike Grego said he hopes the schools can use the time to regroup.

“If things are fine then I will be the first to say that this board will recommend the continuation and renewal of that 90 days,” he said.

Florida Virtual Academy in Pinellas was also issued a notice for termination because it had not met the requirements of a corrective action plan.