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Pasco charter school doesn't have to return $23,000

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Pasco County School District has a new message for the Dayspring Academy charter school regarding teacher performance pay funding.

Never mind.

"After a lengthy dialogue with the (Florida Department of Education), I have concluded that Dayspring Academy does not need to return any of the MAP funds it distributed to its employees in 2007," chief financial officer Olga Swinson wrote in a letter to the school's leadership. "Please accept my sincere apology for any confusion related to this misunderstanding."

Swinson had told the charter school's leaders late last week that the school would have to return the $23,000 of state money it had given to five teachers through the Merit Award Program. The state had "zeroed out" the funding, in the district's view, and all the money had to go back.

That wasn't the case, though. The state only required that unused MAP funds be returned.

No apology needed, said charter co-founder and State Rep. John Legg, who didn't accept the district's opinion from the start. "We're all adults. Mistakes happen."

Unfortunately, Legg added, district officials frequently make mistakes when it comes to charter school issues, and then they get peevish when the charter schools challenge them.

"When we approached them for clarification on the issue, they automatically took the position that they were correct," he said. "The only thing we ask is that if we ask for clarification, people don't get upset that we ask."

School Board Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey expressed dismay that district officials had passed along bad information, seemingly without checking first to see if they were correct. That doesn't help as the board seeks to improve relations with the charter schools, she said.

"I want to keep a good relationship (with the charters). I hope they'll overlook the misinformation, and I'm glad it worked out in their favor," Starkey said.

She expected that "there are some red faces" at the administration office. And, she added, "I have no doubt that staff will take a little more time to do more research before they say something like that again."

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino pledged to make good on that expectation.

"It is my intention that we work closely with the charter school community as educational partners. My staff and I will be working more diligently to improve communications, ensuring that the district is providing accurate and timely information," she said. "I regret that this unfortunate misunderstanding occurred."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Pasco charter school doesn't have to return $23,000 04/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 4:31pm]

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