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Pasco's AMIkids schools appeals to county, district to stay open minus state grant

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco's AMIkids alternative school is slowly piecing together a temporary plan to remain open after it lost a key state grant in May.

The nonprofit school is working with the school district on the details of a temporary location in Land O'Lakes. And on Monday, officials made a pitch to County Administrator John Gallagher for up to $100,000 to offset transportation costs.

The goal: to keep the doors open for a year in hopes that the Legislature will provide ongoing state funding afterward. State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said there's "a good chance" that money could be approved next spring, considering Pasco's high-powered legislative delegation that includes incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who is also tapped as a future speaker.

But if lawmakers do come through with the money, it wouldn't be available until next July. So, AMI needs to fill a yearlong gap.

Gallagher did not agree to a specific plan on Monday. But he said if commissioners agree to help, that assistance could take several forms. For example, the county could cut the school a check to cover gas, maintenance and salaries for bus drivers. Or, it could allow the school's buses to use the county's fuel stations and maintenance sheds.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she would present the options to her colleagues at the July 24 meeting in New Port Richey. She said she supports the school because it helps address kids' behavioral problems before they become more serious.

"It brings something into their life that fills a need," she said.

Formerly known as the Marine Institute, AMIkids has operated in Pasco since 1993. It has been teaching up to 50 kids at a time, though its final students recently finished classes. The school would reopen in mid August. The Pasco branch still has eight employees, but five will likely find jobs at other AMI locations. As the school starts up this fall, more staff would be added.

Under a new grant with the Department of Juvenile Justice, Melbourne-based Paxen Learning Corp. will provide after-school counseling and mental health services for minimum-risk kids in eight Central Florida counties. AMIkids has an agreement with the school district to provide services during the school day, and it is trying to fill the gap left from the loss of the former DJJ grant.

"AMI, or the Marine Institute, changes (students') lives in more ways than one," Fasano said. "But most importantly it brings discipline into their life."

AMIkids officials are in talks with schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino about a location they can use for the next year. They are considering two sites in the Land O'Lakes area. One site is the old Sanders Memorial Elementary that was closed in 2010 and partially demolished.

District spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said a final location hasn't been picked and the School Board must approve the decision.

Eric Hall, AMIkids' education director, said Central Pasco is ideal because the school serves kids from across the county. The school now has three bus drivers, but moving to Land O'Lakes means the school would only need two drivers.

Even with a location from the school district and transportation help from the county, AMIkids regional director Michael Shumans estimated the school would need between $75,000 and $100,000 to stay open.

Fasano said he is asking local candidates to consider donating part of their leftover campaign money to the school. Shumans said the board of directors will also solicit donations and hold fundraisers throughout the year.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco's AMIkids schools appeals to county, district to stay open minus state grant 07/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 10:03pm]

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