TAMPA — The head of the Hillsborough school system's fundraising arm said Tuesday he is optimistic the district can honor its commitment to provide scholarships to students in an urban teaching program.
B. Philip Jones, president of the Hillsborough Education Foundation, said he spoke twice with superintendent MaryEllen Elia and is reaching out to anyone who can support qualifying graduates of the 4-year-old Urban Teaching Academy.
"I think we're well on our way to arriving at a really good solution," said Jones, who took charge of the foundation in January.
He hopes to have a more definitive announcement in a couple of days, he added.
Students at Blake, Middleton and Hillsborough high schools have been in limbo since the start of the school year, when they learned the program — which originally promised college tuition and books to successful graduates — did not have enough money.
About $17,000 exists and approximately 31 students are completing the program, which asks students to return after college and teach at inner-city schools.
Jones said he and Elia spoke twice by phone with each conversation lasting about 30 minutes.
He estimated that 17 of the students are fully qualified for the scholarships when grades and community service are considered.
The package they hope to offer will likely consist of two years of community college followed by two years at a local state college, Jones said.
The money might come from longtime benefactors of the foundation, which runs several scholarship programs.
"The foundation has long been a conduit for individuals, business and foundations who support education," he said. "We're calling some of those dedicated supporters."
He said he will also ask for help from Hillsborough Community College, which already is expected to match the $17,000 that has been raised.
School district magnet programs supervisor Susan King said Monday that she had expected to raise enough, through fundraising, to cover the scholarships. But the economy hurt that effort, she said.
Today, the program is being consolidated to one school instead of three and no longer promises scholarships to new recruits. Instead, it offers guidance assistance in applying for other scholarships and aid.
Donald Graham said he is waiting to hear what will be available for his daughter, Mekka Mason, one of the graduating seniors at Blake.
"She has been talking about this for four years, and it was a slap in the face," he said.
He was encouraged to hear Jones and Elia are trying to remedy the problem. "I have faith that they will," he said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]