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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas School Board will still hold vote to close three charter schools despite alleged debt forgiveness, board chairman resignation

Despite a document allegedly forgiving debts totaling millions of dollars, a resignation from a founding board chair and a barrage of emails, calls and a signed petition from parents, the Pinellas County School Board will still hold a vote at a board meeting Tuesday to determine the fate of three charter schools who were left in disarray by a reckless management company.

The School Board will vote on whether to issue 90-day notices of termination to Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg and Newpoint Pinellas Academy in Clearwater. Together, the three schools are managed by Newpoint Education Partners and enroll more than 800 students and receive $5.4 million in public funding. The board will also consider terminating a fourth charter school, Florida Virtual Academy at Pinellas because of board governance violations and inaccurate reporting.

District officials have recommended closing the three Newpoint schools because of lingering concerns over the schools' financial viability and their governing board. Windsor Prep and East Windsor also face additional issues regarding lacking curriculum, gifted and exceptional student education services. According to assistant School Board attorney Heather Wallace, the district has not received sufficient budgets or documentation proving that the schools are financial stable.

Because of loose record-keeping and Newpoint's uncooperative behavior, the schools' financial instability is largely due to the unknown amount of debt owed by the schools to the management company. On Sunday, the Pinellas School Board received a document signed by Newpoint's lawyer, Robert Konstand, that releases the three schools plus Newpoint Pinellas High and Enterprise High, both in Clearwater, of Newpoint's claims to any amounts owed to company according to the schools' accounts payable, any loans dated as of June 30, 2015 and management fees for May and June.

If accepted by the boards and the school district, the document will sever all ties to Newpoint and affiliated members as of April 30 and the schools would assume employment contracts for staff as of May 13.

District officials, however, will not accept the document until it is signed by an authorized Newpoint officer. Assistant School Board attorney Heather Wallace said it is unclear if the agreement includes loans from previous years. These loan documents have been accounted for in the schools' finances but were never signed by the schools.

"As of right now, these schools still have debt," she said.

According to the document, Newpoint will forgive $2 million plus a $435,000 loan with 6 percent interest from Windsor Prep, nearly $500,000 plus a $160,000 loan with 6 percent interest from Newpoint Pinellas Academy, and almost $1 million plus a $296,000 loan with 6 percent interest from Newpoint Pinellas High.

Wallace explained that it is unclear if the document addresses almost $1 million in unsigned loans between the schools from 2014 and 2013 and asked Konstand for clarification.

In a related matter, Robert Pergolizzi, the founding chair of the board that oversees the three schools at risk for termination, offered his resignation at the schools' board meeting Monday evening. He has previously conceded that he did not question Newpoint's decisions or finances in previous years and said he accepts some responsibility for the current situation.

Pergolizzi said he would like to be a part of the solution to save the schools, "however the perception of my continued involvement is viewed as a negative," he said. "I don’t want to be a liability to the school."

The board unanimously accepted Pergolizzi's resignation and Chris Wenzel, the father of a Windsor Prep third grader who joined the board in March, was selected as the board's chairman.

Wallace, the assistant Pinellas County school board attorney, said she didn't believe Pergolizzi's resignation will have any effect on the district's recommendation to terminate the schools.

"I think there’s still ongoing concerns moving forward, not just concerns from the past," she said, like the school's budgets.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 10:15am]


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