Pinellas charter schools productive as management company is "AWOL"
Newpoint Education Partners, the troublesome management company that operates four charter schools in Pinellas, has disappeared ever since its president released a false press release about how it was acquired by Alliance Ed of Florida. Alliance's executives explained that there was only a "conceptual agreement" to acquire Newpoint, and unless the Pinellas school district sees documentation showing otherwise, Newpoint is still the schools' management company.
In the mean time, the boards that govern the schools, Windsor Prep and East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg and Newpoint Pinellas Academy and Newpoint Pinellas High in Clearwater, have been making strides to get their schools back on track without the weight of Newpoint. In past years, the boards blindly turned their power over the school over to Newpoint, which managed all of the schools' logistics from payroll to hiring decisions down to curriculum and maintenance.
Each of the four schools are under pressure to turn in a corrective action plan to the Florida Department of Education, which was recently given an extension because the district would like to review financial and operational audits requested from the schools to shed more light on the schools' "deteriorating" finances. Altogether, the schools enroll more than 700 students and receive $4.5 million in public funding, but have a total debt of $1.8 million.
Parents, a teacher and an accountant have been added to the boards to turn around the schools and the board hired a new lawyer who specializes in charter school law. One of the most significant initiatives the board has done is issue a notice letter of termination to Newpoint for its breach of its management contract with the school.
According to the letter, Newpoint has been chronically absent, collected repayments for cash advances that were never signed off on, subcontracted services without board approval and pushed its responsibilities on Alliance without the board's consent. Newpoint has 60 days to correct, or the contract is void and the schools must self-manage or find another management company.
"We've got a fully engaged board," said Windsor's board chairman Robert Pergolizzi. "We don't have Newpoint giving us incomplete info anymore. We're getting a lot of momentum in the right direction."
So far, no one has heard from Newpoint. Eileen Quinlan, the company's president, has not returned requests for comment. The schools' principals did not know who to turn to for direction for hiring decisions, until the board regained its autonomy.
The boards are trying to put Newpoint behind them, going as far as changing the locks and security access codes at the schools. They are severing ties with past vendors that Newpoint contracted with and setting up new accounts for state funding.
Paige Jackson, the mother of a Windsor Prep second grader, signed up for a choice school with the district because she was scared the school would close. Her son is high on the waitlist for Pasadena Fundamental but said she would probably pass if a seat opened up and would opt to keep her son at Windsor.
"This whole thing about is believing in and teaching him to believe in something too," she said.