Financially deteriorating Pinellas charters could get extension on corrective plans due to Florida Department of Education
Three Pinellas charter schools may catch a break on submitting "corrective action plans" due today to the Florida Department of Education that would chart a path to rectify the schools' deteriorating finances.
Rick Wolfe, the Pinellas County school district's director of charter schools and home education, is asking the state's education commissioner to extend the deadline to May 18 to give the district enough time to review financial and operational audits that it requested from the schools by May 1 to shed more light on the schools' finances. The district received drafts of these plans on Friday and determined that the plans lacked detail of how to correct the situation other than stating that they would rid their schools of their troubled management company, Newpoint Education Partners.
"We’re trying to determine the short-term and long-term financial stability of the schools," Wolfe said. "(These) plans are insufficient in demonstrating that."
He added, "We kind of collaborated and agreed that the audit would give more information."
Last month, Wolfe described six-figure deficits at Windsor Preparatory Academy in St. Petersburg and two schools in a Clearwater shopping mall — Newpoint Pinellas Academy and Newpoint Pinellas High. Together they enroll more than 700 students and receive $4.5 million in public funding. Wolfe attributed the debts of the schools, which total $1.8 million, to expenditures like unsubstantiated consulting fees.
The governing boards of those schools were to work with the district to develop a correction action plan and file it with the state, otherwise the state will determine a plan. The state outlined eight vague requirements in the plan, including a timeline of how to remedy the school's condition, a summary of the board's procedures for monitoring implementation of the plan and a schedule for the board to provide progress reports to its sponsor, the district, along with attaching financial statements.
After that, under state law, the boards will have one year to implement the plan and correct the problems. If that doesn't happen, the district could decide to terminate or not renew a school's charter.
The governing boards of the three schools held meetings last week to discuss the plan with Wolfe. Board members expressed frustration with Newpoint, describing the company as going "AWOL" after it falsely announced it had been acquired by a nonprofit last month, and lamented the difficulty in obtaining financial records from the company and its vendors.
"We’re in the dark as much as they are," Wolfe said. "It’s pretty hard to say when you don’t have hard data in front of you."