Friday, November 24, 2017
Education

Pasco School Board throws lifeline to AMIkids alternative school

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LAND O'LAKES — AMIkids, a local alternative school that recently lost its state funding, got a lifeline Tuesday when Pasco School Board members approved an agreement to keep the nonprofit agency afloat for a year.

Under the agreement, the district will provide use of the old Richey Elementary School building for the program, which will provide day services to 50 at-risk students who can't attend traditional schools or other programs. The district also will supply special education services, data entry, academic counseling and help for those learning English.

AMIkids will be responsible for providing a principal, three teachers, a behavioral specialist and an instructional assistant. It also will offer food and transportation services and give any required assessments such as the FCAT.

It also will have to pay its utility bills, telephone and Internet costs, and well as pay the district $1,500 a month in rent.

The original agreement called for AMIkids to pay $3,000 a month in rent, but board members reduced that amount. They also agreed that AMIkids would receive about $50,000 the district gets in class size reduction money.

"That definitely takes us in the right direction," said Eric Hall, national director for educational services for AMIkids.

School Board member Allen Altman stressed that this was not a precedent for other community groups who want to use school buildings.

"These are our students," he said. "This is educationally related."

The agreement will allow the nonprofit agency to remain open for a year despite the termination of a contract with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

The agreement means the district will spend about $200,000 on AMIkids, but that's about what already was being spent under a previous contract with the agency.

"Our goal is to maintain our operation and continue to be a partner with the district and with this community," Hall said.

The move comes the same day that the Pasco County Commission gave AMIkids some hope that it would be able to remain open. State Sen. Mike Fasano and AMIkids officials made their pitch to commissioners for funds to help cover transportation costs.

"The services they provide are extremely important," said Fasano, who has been pushing to keep the school open since it lost the state grant.

"We want (the students) to move forward in a positive way, and not have to put them in a facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

According to a letter sent to county officials, the school needs about $140,000 to cover maintenance, gas and drivers' salaries. Currently the school uses three bus routes.

County Administrator John Gallagher said that because the school can wait until October to receive county help, officials would work to include money in the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

Neither he nor commissioners gave a specific dollar amount, though no commissioners objected to the idea. Another option is to allow the school to use county fuel and maintenance facilities.

Formerly known as the Marine Institute, AMIkids has operated in Pasco since 1993. It has been teaching up to 50 kids at a time, though its final students recently finished classes. The school would reopen in mid August. The Pasco branch still has eight employees, but five will likely find jobs at other AMI locations. As the school starts up this fall, more staff would be added.

Under a new grant with the Department of Juvenile Justice, Melbourne-based Paxen Learning Corp. will provide after-school counseling and mental health services for minimum-risk kids in eight Central Florida counties. AMIkids has an agreement with the school district to provide services during the school day, and it is trying to fill the gap left from the loss of the former DJJ grant.

Even with a location from the school district and transportation help from the county, AMIkids regional director Michael Shumans estimated the school would need between $75,000 and $100,000 to stay open.

Fasano said he is asking local candidates to consider donating part of their leftover campaign money to the school. Shumans said the board of directors will also solicit donations and hold fundraisers throughout the year.

Times staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report.

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