Monday, September 24, 2018

Pinellas contracts with outside company to turn around struggling schools

LARGO — Joining other districts across Florida, the Pinellas County school system is reluctantly entering new territory with an agreement that could put three struggling public schools in the hands of a private company.

The School Board voted 7-0 Tuesday night to hire Learning Sciences International to operate Fairmount Park and Lakewood elementary schools and Azalea Middle School starting in August, if their students don't do well enough on state tests this spring.

The deal is the result of a controversial new state law, known by its bill name HB 7069. It requires that any public school with three consecutive grades below a C to choose one of three "turnaround" options: reassigning students to another school, closing the school and reopening it as a charter, or contracting with an outside entity to operate the school.

Pinellas has chosen the latter, but officials spoke Tuesday as if they had to be dragged into complying. The district is one of several Florida school systems suing the Legislature over the new law.

Before the vote, school superintendent Mike Grego called it a "state requirement we are grinding our teeth on."

Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett called the contract "the best option we have moving forward."

And board chairwoman Rene Flowers said it was "by no means any statement that we have given up on these three schools."

She added: "This is something we have to do in order to remain compliant with state statute."

Lakewood Elementary is coming off consecutive D grades over the last two years, while Azalea and Fairmount Park each had D's in 2016 followed F's last year. All three are in St. Petersburg.

The state will not issue grades until June or July, so it's not clear if all or any of the Pinellas schools will fall below a C again. But Learning Sciences International stands to be involved either way.

The district's contract with the West Palm Beach company calls for two options. It would pay LSI $624,000 next year for any of the three schools that does not earn a C this summer. Should the schools' grades improve to a C or better, and LSI is no longer needed under state statute, the district still would pay $498,000 to make one school a model school as agreed to in the contract, and pay $198,000 for supports at the other schools.

The company said in a statement: "The goal for our partnership with Pinellas County Schools is not simply to achieve a score of C, but to go beyond to an A, and to turn them into model schools of research and learning whose visible transformation will enrich the remaining schools in the district."

The Hillsborough County school district, facing the same state requirements, is expected to choose an Indiana-based nonprofit organization to operate seven of its struggling schools. Phalen Leadership Academies, which operates charter schools, was chosen in a competitive bidding process.

The Hillsborough schools are Foster, Mort, Oak Park, Potter and Sheehy and Booker T. Washington elementary schools, and Memorial Middle School. The cost to the district will average $315,000 per school, depending on size, and the contracts will come up for a vote on March 6.

Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins said in a recent letter that he is confident all seven schools will avoid the arrangement by earning at least a C after spring testing. If that is the case, no money will be paid to Phalen.

Times Staff Writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report.

Comments
Florida ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus lawsuit heads to mediation

Florida ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus lawsuit heads to mediation

A year-old case contending Florida's "Best and Brightest" teacher bonus program discriminates against educators of a certain age or race is headed to mediation in November.The complaint focuses on the part of the 2015 program that relies upon...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hillsborough Sheriff joins oversight board for school tax

Hillsborough Sheriff joins oversight board for school tax

Sheriff Chad Chronister has agreed to serve as vice chair of an oversight committee for the proposed half-cent sales tax to benefit the Hillsborough County Public Schools.The school district announced his selection Monday morning. Betty Castor, who s...
Updated: 11 hours ago
First donations are logged in school referendum campaign

First donations are logged in school referendum campaign

Strengthen Our Schools, the political committee that is promoting the half-cent sales tax to benefit the Hillsborough County Public Schools, reported its first $150,600 in contributions this week.The biggest checks, each for $75,000, came from the Hi...
Published: 09/24/18
Florida education news: Scholarships, taxes, security and more

Florida education news: Scholarships, taxes, security and more

SCHOLARSHIPS: Several weeks into the school year, Florida's newest student scholarships are getting closer to reality. More than 2,700 children have applied for a Reading Scholarship, while car dealers will be allowed to start offering tax credi...
Published: 09/24/18
ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Sept. 16, 2018

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Sept. 16, 2018

Florida’s race for governor is officially on, and the topic of education promises to be a key issue as the candidates seek support. The major party hopefuls focused on their policy priorities over the past week, and they differ is most every wa...
Published: 09/22/18
Two Pasco County schools see principal shift

Two Pasco County schools see principal shift

Plagued with low staff morale, Pasco Middle School on Friday got a new principal charged with improving the climate of the Dade City campus.Danielle "Dee Dee" Johnson, principal of Wesley Chapel High since early 2017, was appointed to ...
Published: 09/21/18
Time for Florida’s new student scholarships draws near

Time for Florida’s new student scholarships draws near

It's six weeks into the 2018-19 school year, and Florida's two newest scholarship programs to help struggling readers and bullied children are about to become reality.Florida lawmakers established the Reading Scholarship and the "Hope" Scholarsh...
Published: 09/21/18
Florida education news: Football, mental health, accountability and more

Florida education news: Football, mental health, accountability and more

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Republican candidate for Florida governor Ron DeSantis offers more insights on his views about Common Core, testing, charter schools and civics education. He released his position paper on education earlier in the week. Several l...
Published: 09/21/18
Following the money: Referendum and AC materials

Following the money: Referendum and AC materials

We've been collecting documents to supplement our reporting about the upcoming Hillsborough sales tax referendum and thought we would share them here. This post will be updated.First: Facebook Live video of Superintendent Jeff Eakins' first town hall...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/23/18
Mental health provider that evaluated Nikolas Cruz picked to service charter schools

Mental health provider that evaluated Nikolas Cruz picked to service charter schools

Florida's largest charter school membership organization announced Wednesday that it is partnering with Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz's former mental health care provider to render services to schools.Broward County's Henderson Behavioral Heal...
Published: 09/20/18