Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Vincero Academy staff waits on pay, keeps teaching special-needs students

PALM HARBOR — Not the teachers. Not the principal. Not even the bus driver.

No one at Vincero Academy, a private special-needs school, has been paid in five weeks. Teachers missed bills for car payments, student loans, their children's tuition. Some face losing their homes.

The school was started by Frank and Anne Mongelluzzi, the Dunedin founders of Able Body Labor. Their adopted son, Anthony, was one of the first to enroll.

But the school has fallen victim to the couple's crumbling financial empire, wracked with $60 million in debt and millions more in unpaid taxes. A bankruptcy trustee, overwhelmed by the couple's assets, has yet to release money the school desperately needs.

Though unpaid, the teachers refuse to stop. Their 40 students, elementary through high school, still attend classes on social studies and life skills. Planning is still under way for the school's first graduation. Even the senior trip to Disney World was a success.

Yet the students have begun to ask questions. What will happen to our school?

"My planning period was spent bawling at my desk," said math teacher Amanda Willhite. "I have another job opportunity, but I can't bring myself to leave, for the kids. What if they show up and there's nobody here?"

The school's crippled finances have forced principal Richard Wolfe to cut Friday classes and end the school year early. He is looking for a new campus — the current building, at 30750 U.S. 19, is in foreclosure — and investors or donors to keep the school afloat.

Parents have donated money, doughnuts, gas and phone cards to support the teachers. An anonymous benefactor donated tens of thousands of dollars, enough to catch up on faculty pay, said Steve Berman, the attorney for bankruptcy trustee Angela Esposito.

But a significant portion of those gifts remain tied to the Mongelluzzis' frozen account. Berman said that money would be released within days. Another Mongelluzzi business, Italian restaurant Pssghetti's on U.S. 19 in Clearwater, reopened Wednesday night with back pay for all staff.

"All of the Mongelluzzis' businesses were cash-starved when (Esposito) took over," Berman said. "She's been fighting fires since the bankruptcy."

Funding for the school has come mostly from $200,000 in Florida's McKay disabilities scholarships, state records show. Private tuition and donations were supposed to cover the rest.

But in the months before the Mongelluzzis' collapse, English teacher Erin Treece saw strange things happen with the faculty's pay. Checks were handed out late, or with notes saying not to cash them until the next day. Frank Mongelluzzi came to the school once to plead for teachers to stay without pay, to "do it for the kids," Treece recalled.

Treece has had to borrow from family and beg insurance and loan companies for help. Though she said she still loves the school, she will leave soon for another job with Mavericks High School in Largo.

"There's being understanding, and there's letting yourself be taken advantage of," she said.

Last week, after the St. Petersburg Times reported on the bankruptcy, Wolfe wrote to parents that he wanted to "address matters head on," and that he expected the school would be fine. "We do not intend to allow Vincero to be caught up" in what he called "financial setbacks."

Five days later, he wrote back with "devastating news": the semester would end 10 days early, at the end of May.

That frustrated parents like Tracey Short, who said she was "blindsided" by the news. Her ninth-grade daughter, Samantha, who has developmental disabilities due to epilepsy, has attended Vincero since it opened in 2009.

"Even if Vincero said they were going to reopen in the fall, I'm not going to send them to this school," Short said. "They've been so dishonest about what's going on."

At the center of the school's dilemma are the students, who Treece said were "very frightened" they would lose their friends and favorite teachers. Much of her recent life-skills lessons for students have focused on how to deal with the school's grim future: controlling their fears, teaching them about money, reassuring them.

Willhite said the students are all "totally aware" of the chaos. One student told another to give her some slack because she wasn't getting paid.

"I told them this whole thing was a lesson in humanity," Willhite said. "This was a whole extra course they didn't know about."

Contact Drew Harwell at or (727) 445-4170.

Vincero Academy staff waits on pay, keeps teaching special-needs students 04/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 12:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 12 FSU, freshman QB James Blackman struggle in 27-21 loss to N.C. State


    TALLAHASSEE — Whatever was left of No. 12 Florida State's College Football Playoff hopes suffered a massive, likely fatal, blow Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

    Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (8) carries during the first quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  2. Trump tells Warriors star Stephen Curry that White House visit is off


    SOMERSET, N.J. — Stephen Curry and President Donald Trump agree on one thing: The Golden State star is not going to the White House anytime soon.

    Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry poses for photos during NBA basketball team media day Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. [Associated Press]
  3. For starters: Rays at Orioles, facing another old friend in Jeremy Hellickson


    UPDATE, 3:29: Here is the Rays lineup, with Duda at 1B and Morrison the DH:

  4. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Charles Bradley, acclaimed Florida soul singer, dies at 68


    Acclaimed Florida R&B powerhouse Charles Bradley, whose raw, pained voice earned him the nickname the Screaming Eagle of Soul, has died of cancer at 68, his representatives announced Saturday.

    Charles Bradley performed at the 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival.