TAMPA — With the clock ticking until graduation, Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia will meet next with seniors in the Urban Teaching Academy to try and finalize the college scholarships they were promised.
They'll be asked to bring documentation to apply for scholarships through the Hillsborough Education Foundation. The nonprofit has Florida prepaid scholarships that it can redirect for up to 23 students who qualify based on their income, said president Phil Jones.
Another six whose family incomes are too high will likely get cash scholarships, Jones said. "We feel fairly high in our confidence level that we have it squared away."
Meetings will take place Wednesday at Blake High School, Thursday at Hillsborough and May 17 at Middleton, all from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
School officials have been scrambling since they realized recently they did not have the money to honor a promise of college tuition and book funds to students who completed the teaching program at the three schools.
That promise was also stated in the district's application for federal magnet grant funds. In exchange, the students were to return to the district after college and teach at inner-city schools.
After the Tampa Bay Times disclosed the problem in early April, Elia and Jones said they were counting on assistance from the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College. Elia said USF president Judy Genshaft made that assurance personally.
But officials at those schools said their resources were limited, and much of the assistance would come in the form of financial aid counseling.
Hearing Friday's developments, USF spokesman Michael Hoad said, "Dr. Genshaft's commitment was that we will help in any way we possibly can. What you are describing, from our point of view, is very good news."
In a letter to school board members on Friday, Elia wrote, "we remain optimistic about the future of the UTA."
The program, however, is being phased out of Hillsborough and Middleton and will remain only at Blake.
Launched in 2008, the academy has three more classes after this one that have been promised scholarships. That adds up to 100 students, Jones said.
Fundraising is ongoing to cover those scholarships and the six cash scholarships for this year's seniors.
"People have been really nice about $500 here and $1,000 there," he said. A donor has agreed to match $95,000 if the foundation can raise the other $95,000, he said. School district employees will soon receive email solicitations to contribute.
Reaction from school board members has been muted, with the exception of Susan Valdes.
On Friday, Valdes took issue with Elia's repeated statement that because the school year isn't over yet, no one has broken any promises.
"But we have," Valdes said. "Staff dropped the ball. And I do not feel it is appropriate now to go out to the community and ask for the money."
Staff writer Elisabeth Parker contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]