Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Private schools used vouchers for special-needs children who were not enrolled, judge says

TALLAHASSEE — Two private schools in Florida City should be barred from participating in the state school voucher programs, an administrative law judge said Monday.

The recommendation came after state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart dinged Barrington Academy and Barrington Academy II for accepting state scholarships for two students who did not attend the schools. The two schools are related.

Barrington employees are accused of endorsing checks made out to the students' parents and depositing them into the schools' accounts, court records show.

Gwendolyn Thomas, who is principal of both schools, told the judge that the employees responsible for the misconduct were no longer working there.

Barrington attorney Marc Douthit said the money had been returned to the state. He declined further comment.

Judge Claude B. Aarington did not punish the schools indefinitely. In his recommendation, he said the schools should be allowed to reapply to the scholarship programs after the Department of Education had been fully reimbursed.

Both schools should also "demonstrate that they have personnel and written procedures that will ensure compliance with all applicable rules and statutory provisions," Aarington said.

The Education Department will have the final say on what action is taken.

Florida has two school voucher programs. The John M. McKay Scholarship program provides private school scholarships to children with special needs. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program serves children from low-income families.

Earlier this month, the Florida Legislature passed a bill seeking to expand the tax credit scholarship program. The proposal also creates new accountability provisions for participating schools, as well as the nonprofit organization that oversees the program.

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the measure (SB 850) in the coming weeks.

The Barrington Academy schools enroll more than 300 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to its website.

Both were eligible to receive students on McKay and tax credit scholarships.

One student who received a McKay scholarship withdrew from Barrington in June 2011. But school officials deposited about $12,230 in checks issued to the student's mother between August 2011 and August 2013, according the records.

The checks had been fraudulently deposited, according to the Education Department.

Barrington submitted paperwork to the state verifying that the student had been in attendance when the checks were deposited, records show.

Stewart, the state education commissioner, suspended Barrington from participating in the voucher programs in October. But after the suspension, many of the scholarship students were transferred to Barrington II, court records show.

Barrington II, meanwhile, deposited about $8,316 in checks issued to the mother of a different student from September 2013 to January 2014.

It later came to light that the child had been enrolled in a Department of Juvenile Justice residential program during that time.

The commissioner "had probable cause to believe that Barrington II had engaged in fraudulent conduct," Aarington said. She requested a formal administrative hearing this spring.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected]

Private schools used vouchers for special-needs children who were not enrolled, judge says 05/19/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2014 7:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help


    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  2. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers


    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem


    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  4. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.
  5. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921