It hurt when students and teachers at Life Skills Center charter school learned their high school for struggling students would close June 30.
On Thursday, the news got worse.
In a heated meeting with two representatives from Ohio-based charter school company White Hat Management, the staff of 22 learned there would be no severance pay, no cushion to help them as they enter the world of the unemployed.
"If you have any kind of heart, it's something you should never do," said LaSilas Fisher, the school's assistant administrator. "Especially in an economy like this."
A frustrated Fisher then walked out of the meeting.
Others stayed behind, some yelling so loud Fisher said he could hear them from the other side of the closed door.
"I don't know how I'm going to pay for July's rent, July's bills, August's rent, August's bills," science teacher Victor Clack said afterward.
While two White Hat corporate representatives met with the principal, students continued to work at computer stations, trying to complete as many credits as possible before their last instructional day June 29.
Gary Minadeo, director of operational assessment for White Hat, declined to discuss the staff reports that the company was letting them go without additional compensation.
"That's a private issue between them and us," he said, referring the St. Petersburg Times to a corporate spokesperson.
In a statement e-mailed to the Times on Thursday, White Hat did not address the question of severance, but said the company wanted to keep the school open and placed the school's predicament on the shoulders of the Pinellas County School District:
"The district does not seem to care about the students, the Pinellas County citizens employed at the school, or the benefit to the Pinellas County economy of having high school graduates rather than high school dropouts," the statement said.
White Hat touts itself as the third-largest for-profit charter school company in the United States.
On Tuesday, the Pinellas School Board agreed not to renew the district's contract with Life Skills Center charter school, which is publicly funded but privately run and this past year had more than 300 students.
Superintendent Julie Janssen pointed to lackluster student participation and performance on the FCAT, a 12 percent graduation rate and poor attendance, among other things, for her recommendation to not renew the school's contract.
Board members also expressed doubts that Life Skills' board and White Hat shared the same commitment to improvement that students, parents and faculty members exhibited in their emotional appeals to the board to save the school.
The death knell: White Hat failed to turn in its copy of a negotiated contract sent to the company May 14 until the evening of June 14, more than a week past the deadline — and the night before Tuesday's School Board meeting.
"If I had known I was working for a company like this," Fisher said, "I would have jumped ship a long time ago."
White Hat, which has been targeting dropouts since its founding in 1998, has 50 schools in six states, including 36 Life Skills campuses — 10 in Florida.
Earlier this year, a Life Skills campus in Winter Haven narrowly escaped closure after Polk County officials found the company was not spending enough money in the classroom.
Another Life Skills in Lakeland was shuttered in 2009 after board members voted not to renew its charter, concerned about its low graduation rate. An investigation there also found that the school inflated its attendance numbers and received $101,000 from the state for students it didn't have.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.