Cara Fitzpatrick, Times Staff Writer

Cara Fitzpatrick joined the Tampa Bay Times in 2012 and is an education reporter. She grew up in Washington State and graduated from the University of Washington and Columbia University.

Phone: (727) 893-8846


Twitter: @Fitz_ly

  1. Former opponent endorsed Billiris


    Beverley Billiris, former mayor of Tarpon Springs and a retired teacher, has picked up the endorsement of one of her former opponents in the race for Pinellas County School Board.

    John Nygren, a retired teacher, said he will support Billiris in her bid for the District 4 seat. Nygren lost in a three-way race for the non-partisan seat in the August primary. Ken Peluso, a retired chiropractor and former chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas, took the most votes in the primary, but not enough to avoid a run-off race with Billiris in November....

  2. Communications director requirements downgraded


    Well, that didn't take long.

    Donna Winchester, director of strategic communications, left the Pinellas County School District last month for a new job at the University of Florida. District officials now are proposing a downgrade in the requirements to fill her position....

  3. Teachers get 2.5 percent pay bump in Pinellas


    Teachers in Pinellas County Schools will see another bump in pay this year.

    The school district reached a tentative agreement with its employee unions, including the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, to provide employees with an average 2.5 percent pay raise. That follows last year's average 5.6 percent bump....

  4. Pinellas schools get enrollment boost from charters


    After a decade of declining enrollment, the Pinellas County School District made an aggressive push this year to compete with private and charter schools.

    It opened two new elementary schools and four new middle school programs. It took over a closing charter school for at-risk students. It marketed to parents with invitation-only open houses and direct mailers.

    The result: Superintendent Mike Grego told the School Board this week that enrollment went up for the first time in a decade, the result of greater communication with parents and special programs that were "embracing and bringing people into our schools."...

    “Every day we’re enrolling kids, believe it or not,” said Mike Grego, Pinellas County Schools District superintendent. Grego said increased enrollment was the result of special programs and greater communication with parents.
  5. Student photography exhibit to open tonight


    Students from the journalism programs at Melrose Elementary, John Hopkins Middle and Lakewood High School will have their work on display starting tonight at The Studio@620.

    The annual exhibit, called Through Our Eyes: Midtown and Beyond, has 100 photos and multimedia displays. It opens tonight, with a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and runs through Oct. 2. Students will lead tours tonight. The studio is at 620 1st Ave. S in St. Petersburg....

  6. Fewer students claim fundamental seats in first 10 days of school


    Fewer students claimed seats in fundamental schools in the first 10 days of the school year.

    This year, 7,120 students showed up at fundamental schools for the initial enrollment count, down 86 students from last year at the same time. It's sort of surprising, given that fundamental schools have long waiting lists and are incredibly popular with parents in Pinellas County. Every year the schools receive far more applications than other district programs. Fundamentals emphasize back-to-basics education, good behavior and parental involvement. ...

  7. Pinellas School Board approves $1.3 billion budget, lower tax rate


    The Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $1.3 billion budget for the 2014-15 school year that includes new academic programs and the rebuilding of Largo High.

    The budget includes a slightly lower property tax rate for homeowners. The rate is $7.84 per $1,000 of taxable value; that's down from $8.06 last year. Despite the lower rate, some homeowners could see an increase in their taxes because of a bump in property values....

  8. Pinellas students who had laptops saw some academic gains


    Students in Pinellas County who were given laptops to take home last year made greater gains on standardized testing than other students.

    About 2,800 third and fourth graders in low-income schools were given laptops last year as part of a new initiative to address the "digital divide" between students who have access to technology at home and those who don't. District officials were hoping that students in the Title 1 schools would use the computers to play educational games in their free time, effectively extending the school day. Connect for Success, as the program was called, cost about $4 million in federal funds. ...

  9. Pinellas considering $1.3 billion budget for 2014/15


    The Pinellas County School Board will consider tonight whether to approve a $1.3 billion budget for the 2014/15 school year.

    This year's spending plan includes two new schools, Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway elementaries, and four new academic programs. It also includes the long-awaited rebuilding of Largo High. 

    Board members approved a tentative budget in July of $1.2 billion. The final budget is slightly higher because of grant money that has come into the district. The final budget includes a slightly lower property tax rate for homeowners. (The same as the tax rate in the tentative budget.) The rate is $7.84 per $1,000 of taxable value; that's down from $8.06 last year. Despite the lower rate, some homeowners could see an increase in their taxes because of a bump in property values....

  10. Race is on to add support to five struggling elementary schools


    Blink and you might have missed it.

    After one phone call and a single meeting last month, Pinellas County schools superintendent Mike Grego decided to expand a promising pilot program to five struggling schools for the 2014-15 school year.

    It started with 137 students at Fairmount Park Elementary. Now, with the year under way, district officials are working fast to "scale up" the Children's Initiative to all students at Fairmount Park, Campbell Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementaries — five Pinellas schools that rank among the worst in the state....

  11. Enrollment up in Pinellas for first time in a decade


    After a decade of decline, enrollment has increased slightly in Pinellas County's public schools.

    There were 101,512 students in elementary, middle and high schools this year, according to the Pinellas County School District's 10-day count. That's up 164 students compared to the same time last year. Charter schools were included in that mix. Their enrollment increased to 6,062 students this year, compared to 5,891 students last year. The overall increase - of 164 students - is the first seen in Pinellas County in the last decade....

  12. Billiris paid her property taxes


    Beverley Billiris, a candidate for the Pinellas County School Board and former mayor of Tarpon Springs, has paid her property taxes.

    Billiris, 66, and her husband, George, 87, owed $6,990 in unpaid taxes from 2013 on their home and commercial property, both in Tarpon Springs. The couple fell behind on their taxes, she said, because of an illness in the family. The Times wrote about the unpaid taxes earlier this month. Billiris said then that the taxes would be paid within a month. She paid them on Aug. 19, according to the property tax collector....

  13. Grego lists accomplishments in state of the district speech


    In his second "State of the District" speech Wednesday, superintendent Mike Grego emphasized a long list of accomplishments in his short tenure, ranging from an expansion of summer school and after-school programs to an increase in career academies and the number of students earning industry certifications to the move last year to raise the starting teacher salary to $40,000 a year. 

    "Our district is moving in a very positive direction," he said....

  14. Lerner, other incumbents to stay on Pinellas School Board


    Three incumbents kept their seats on the Pinellas County School Board in Tuesday's primary election, while a fourth race will be decided with a runoff in November.

    Linda Lerner, 71, the board's longest-serving member, beat a strong challenge from Maureen Ahern, 54, a former journalist and the wife of state Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole. With the win, Lerner earned a seventh term in office....

    Terry Krassner
  15. Pinellas County School Board, District 4


    School Board | District 4

    Three candidates — Beverley Billiris, John Nygren and Ken Peluso — are vying to replace Robin Wikle. Wikle chose to step down early. District 4 includes Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Dunedin and parts of Clearwater, including Countryside and the north beaches. Cara Fitzpatrick, Times staff writer


    Ken Peluso