NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino just might have a place where AMIkids alternative school can go.
"We have four classrooms available," Fiorentino said Wednesday at state Sen. Mike Fasano's office during a meeting where officials gathered to figure out what to do with the nonprofit school, which recently lost funding from the Department of Juvenile Justice. The school combines education, counseling and a military-style discipline for at-risk youth.
Fiorentino declined to name the site, saying she needed to consult first with School Board members.
"It's centrally located?" asked Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
"Yes," Fiorentino said.
"Outstanding," Fasano said.
Pasco's AMI school, which serves about 50 students, is often a last resort for children.
"These youngsters are troubled," Fasano said.
At AMI, students have counseling and smaller class sizes. There is a military-style system, where children move up in rank as a reward for good behavior. The school has been a darling of local officials for decades, all of whom have stories of meeting students who have made remarkable, positive changes in their lives because of AMI. Both Fasano and Fiorentino have drawings in their offices done by AMI students. They are hoping to help keep the school going through this year. Fasano hopes to later secure state funds to keep the program going, but those won't be available until after the next legislative session in the spring.
To keep Pasco's AMI branch open, the school needs about $300,000 to cover a new facility, transportation and to continue its mental health and behavioral counseling programs. The school's New Port Richey location is too cramped, leaders said. The nonprofit program owns its buses, but needs money for gas and maintenance.
Fiorentino said she thinks she has a good place picked out in central Pasco, which AMI might be able to use by only paying the electric bill.
She plans to speak with School Board members, who will then address the issue at their July 3 meeting.
"We all know there is a need," Fiorentino said. "We don't want these kids running around. We want to save them."
Fasano said he plans to speak with the county about possibly getting funds for AMI's buses. He said helping these children is not only important, it's prudent.
"It's about getting to these young people before they wind up in an adult correctional facility where it will cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars," Fasano said.
He said that he plans to donate to AMI any campaign funds he has leftover after the fall election.
Mark Carroll, executive director of AMIkids in Pasco, said he is thankful for the community's support. Earlier that day, he said he got a check for $2,500 from the Rotary Club of New Port Richey.
"They have all been very good to us," Carroll said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.