Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Parents worry as Plato Academy Trinity appears unable to open for classes on time

Plato Academy Trinity had big plans to expand its footprint in western Pasco County, adding a new building and more than tripling its enrollment for the 2018-19 academic year.

With four days before students return, though, the charter school appeared unlikely to be ready in time for its scheduled Aug. 13 first day of classes.

Its new building and grounds, on Old County Road 54 just west of Little Road, remained under construction on Thursday, with several permits outstanding and its certificate of occupancy unissued. Its staff, unable to work in the new structure, conducted business from an old church next door.

The school canceled its planned open house for Thursday afternoon, with teachers instead sending parents email materials and saying they looked forward to meeting everyone on the first day of school. They notably did not say "Monday" in those messages.

And they did not provide any more information about the school's status, despite growing concern among parents who shared their views on social media.

A receptionist at the school said Plato Academy had no comment on the situation when a reporter visited. Plato Academy corporate officials did not respond to emailed requests for information.

Ryan Abremski, whose son is set to begin kindergarten at Plato Academy Trinity, said many families had a suspicion something was amiss at the school when the open house was canceled.

He lives across the street from the site, and said he could see throughout the summer that little work was seeming to get done. "It still looks like a construction zone," he said Thursday afternoon.

Abremski said parents do not want the school to open if it's not safe for children and staff. They just want to know what's going on, so they can make alternate plans if necessary.

"Are we even starting Monday?" he wondered. "If not, what's the game plan? What route are they taking here? … Us parents need answers of what our children are going to do."

Pasco County officials said it was very unlikely the school could complete all the work required by several departments before Monday morning. The school still requires:

• Approval of overall Site Plans
• Approval of Utility Plans
• Payment of Fees
• Final Utility Inspection
• Approval of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permits

As of Thursday afternoon, the county Engineering Inspections department had not received a request for inspection, and the Building Construction Services department stated this project is not ready for a certificate of occupancy.

"Our staff is standing by and ready to help," county spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said.

The charter school had not notified the Pasco County school district, which holds its contract, or the parents of any of these issues.

"We need them to communicate with us, and we need them to communicate with the parents, who expect school to start on Monday," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Abremski made clear that he did not hold the teachers or staff responsible for the holdups. He still anticipates sending his son to the well regarded school.

But he expected better from the business side of the equation.

"I can't believe there's that much more to do, and they're not even saying, 'Hey, we need more time,'" he said. "They need to be open and honest about it."

The school's parent organization has scheduled a special board meeting for 1 p.m. Friday at its office in Clearwater, 861 N. Hercules. No agenda was  available, so it is not clear whether the session will focus on the Trinity campus situation.

Interested parties who cannot go to the meeting can attend via telephone. The teleconference number is (605) 475-4758 – Access Code: 813840.

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