SAN ANTONIO, Fla. — A year after having its contract pulled by the state and transforming itself into a private day school for troubled kids, the San Antonio Boys Village is on the verge of closing for good.
The problem? No money and not enough students.
"We needed to have a pretty full house," said Al Capodiferro, the 67-year-old executive director. "It's not a good time to try to start anything."
For more than 35 years the school operated as a 30-bed halfway house for troubled teenage boys.
But problems surfaced in May 2009 when funding from the state was not enough to cover a $104,000 shortfall. Officials tried to refinance the 11-acre property, but banks told them no. Three months later, the state Department of Juvenile Justice issued a critical report — rating the school as "minimal" or "failed" in four out of five categories — and ended its contract with the Boys Village.
Board members and school officials decided to convert to a private co-ed day school to serve students who had been expelled from the public school system, saving the district the costs of educating them at home. The school, renamed Village Lane Academy, also planned to teach life skills and vocational training such as basic construction and horticulture. Tuition would be covered primarily with state McKay Scholarships valued at $3,900 each.
But school officials were stymied by transportation issues. Because the school was private, public school buses didn't serve it. Working parents were unable, or in some cases unwilling, to drop kids off and pick them up, school officials said.
So far the school has drawn one student.
Meanwhile, the school has spent the $50,000 to $60,000 it cleared on the sale of its property to a benefactor who leased it back at cost.
Board members talked about partnering with the Pasco school district to provide transportation and keep Village Lane alive as a last resort for the handful who simply can't make it in regular classes or the district's alternative programs.
"A lot of people in the district would like to see this go," said John Chandler, a behavioral specialist at Stewart Middle School and a member of Village Lane Academy's board. "But there are a lot of legal entanglements."
The board plans to meet today to discuss the school's fate.
Pasco school district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said no one has formally approached administrators about transportation.
"I'm not sure we can provide it," she said. "We don't provide it for charter schools, which are public schools."
One of those who would support the effort is Pasco County School Board member Allen Altman.
"Some of our young people … through their own poor choices choose not to take advantage of the opportunities provided through a variety of means to them," he said. "There is a certain group of students who need more classroom management or intensive oversight."
He said he thinks a possibility remains of working out a deal, but not in enough time to keep Village Lane open now.
He also said the district has made great strides in offering second-chance programs that help students who are behind catch up with credits needed for graduation.
"Sadly, there is a very small group of students who still cannot take advantage of those additional opportunities and stay focused enough to stay on track."