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School Board steps in to oversee Hillsborough charter school

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board terminated a Riverview charter school's contract Tuesday after a majority of the school's directors resigned.

District officials said they would step in to oversee Tampa Bay Academy for the rest of the year before deciding what to do with its 63 special-needs students.

"We have to make sure we're able to support their needs, in whatever venue," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia. "Nothing will change (today) for the parents or the students there."

The move followed weeks of efforts to stabilize the school, which was founded more than 15 years ago to serve students with emotional and behavioral problems.

In December, a residential treatment center and group homes for youths next to the school were closed, and in January officials say the school's management company abandoned it.

Officials said the Tampa Bay Academy charter school was not directly connected with the neighboring residential treatment facility, which shared its name and supplied many of its students.

But it was a state inquiry into reports of violence and runaways at the treatment facility — as well as the loss of Medicaid funding — that prompted the management company to close it, throwing the charter school into jeopardy.

The charter's four board members stepped in to run the school but quickly became overwhelmed.

"We had no option but to resign our positions," said member Joe Chillura, adding that he supports the district takeover. "We believe this suggestion is the only viable one that's going to keep the school operable."

Principal Bill Orris said he blamed the Texas-based management company Youth and Family Centered Services, rather than the board, for the troubles.

"Nobody on this campus did anything wrong," he said. "We've just done our jobs the best we could."

Orris, eight teachers and 27 aides will remain at the school.

Rhonda Brown, the only member of the school's board who refused to resign, urged the district to find a solution.

"The only appeal I am truly making is that you allow that school to stay open," she said.

Staff writers Sarah Whitman, Robbyn Mitchell and John Martin contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

School Board steps in to oversee Hillsborough charter school 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 11:46pm]
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