Plato Academy interested in soon-to-be-closed Pinellas schools
Steve Christopoulos (left), the principal of Plato Academy in Clearwater, said in a statement the group “is prepared to assume occupancy and operate” Coachman Middle School and Palm Harbor Elementary. The Pinellas School Board voted Tuesday to close both buildings as part of a larger effort to cut spending and address declining enrollment.
Plato opened in 2005-06 and, after some early struggles, has steadily grown. It’s enrollment stands at about 235 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, plus about 35 pre-school students. The district already has approved Plato’s proposal to add a second elementary school and a middle school in North Pinellas County. But the group has yet to find sites for the schools.
Christopoulos said Palm Harbor Elementary and Coachman would fit perfectly. “If they stay closed,” he said, “it’s a waste.”
He said Plato’s initial approach to the district went nowhere. The district wrote a letter, saying the soon-to-be closed schools are not available for use. The letter cited a state law governing the use of public school buildings by charter schools. Christopoulos disagrees, citing the same law, and said he will approach the School Board about the idea.
Plato students take classes in Greek language for 45 minutes every day in addition to the regular curriculum. Christopoulos touted the school’s A grade from the state and an emphasis on technology. He said the school has a back to basics approach and high parent participation, similar to a fundamental school.
Turning closed schools into charters would appear to work against the district's plan to cut costs. The district would give up money in the form of per-student allocations from the state; it also would retain ownership and could not collect rent from the charter.
Christopoulos argued that Plato is going to take students from the district anyway, whether it uses the closed schools or opens in other locations. "The net result is going to be the same," he said.
Thomas C. Tobin, Times education writer