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Michael LaForgia, Times Staff Writer

Michael LaForgia

Michael LaForgia is a reporter on the investigations team at the Tampa Bay Times.

In 2014, he and Times reporter Will Hobson won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for stories that revealed Hillsborough County was paying tax dollars to house the homeless in squalor.

He joined the Times in 2012.

Phone: (727) 892-2944.

Email: mlaforgia@tampabay.com

Twitter: @laforgia_

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  1. Confederate flag punctuates Pinellas School Board discussion on failing schools

    K12

    LARGO — With a dramatic flourish, a longtime education activist unfurled a Confederate battle flag Tuesday in front of Pinellas County School Board members, saying they had failed black students in five neighborhood schools in south St. Petersburg.

    Sami Leigh Scott told the board she was there to represent the 95 percent of students in the schools who failed reading or math last year. ...

    School Board Chairwoman Linda Lerner wants the focus to be on the district’s efforts to improve schools in the last two years.
  2. Black leaders say district broke promises made to settle lawsuit

    Education

    Pinellas County school leaders have broken promises they made to settle a lawsuit accusing them of shortchanging black students, according to the plaintiff in the case.

    In a letter delivered to superintendent Mike Grego on Saturday, the group that sued the School Board said the district isn't doing enough to help struggling black students.

    "We have concluded that the district continues to fail to meet its obligations regarding the education of black students," wrote Ricardo Davis, head of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students. "After five years, we simply do not feel any further discussions will be meaningful or helpful."...

    The letter was delivered to school chief Michael Grego, who speaks at a community forum he and School Board member Rene Flowers hosted Friday.
  3. Pinellas schools chief tries to reassure parents he has addressed 'Failure factories'

    K12

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Superintendent Mike Grego on Friday sought to reassure members of the city's black community in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times investigation that traced the district's role in resegregating five elementary schools and then turning them into some of the worst in Florida.

    Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 parents, grandparents, community leaders and school employees, Grego described the steps he already has set in motion to improve the schools, including steering them more money and adding classroom aides, social workers and mental health counselors....

    Julia Cromartie, right, listens during the forum with her children, from left, Maliyah Morrow, 5, a Melrose Elementary student, Davion Cummings, 12, a John Hopkins Middle student, and Marley Morrow, 7, who attends Melrose. 
  4. Federal report says IRS could do more to regulate charities

    Corporate

    The IRS doesn't have the manpower to go after charities that flout the law, and it could do more to help state regulators target crooked operators, according to a federal watchdog report made public today.

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office also flagged the revenue service for failing to track how well its charity regulators are doing their jobs.

    "Clearly the IRS is failing to ensure charitable groups fully comply with the law, or even meet the minimum standards for receiving such preferential tax status," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wrote last year in a letter requesting the review....

    Isolated hundred dollar cancer ribbon on a white background.
  5. FSU shooter's friends tried to get help for him months before the shooting

    College

    When she met him in the parking lot, the sight of him jarred her. Gone was the dapper, carefully dressed man who had taken her on dates for most of the past year.

    He was gaunt, haggard, disheveled and wild-eyed. He wore a borrowed T-shirt and a pair of too-small running shorts. He was barefoot. He had thrown away his shoes, he told her, because he was sure they were bugged by the cops who were following him....

    Senior Kylie Gay, 20, of Deltona, left, freshman Joe Cary, 19, of Jacksonville, and senior Thomas Jeng, of Gainesville, designed a poster for students to sign messages of unity following the fatal shooting at FSU’s Strozier Library on Friday.
  6. For FSU shooter, strong start followed by mental unraveling

    College

    WEWAHITCHKA — There was a knock on the door of the home in this tiny town not 75 miles from Tallahassee, and at the doorstep stood the man who, in a few weeks time, would open fire on students in the library at Florida State University.

    Myron May, a 31-year-old alumnus, had returned to the state that had raised him.

    He had driven to Wewahitchka from New Mexico, where things had not been going so well. He told Abigail Taunton, a long-time family friend whose boys he had run cross-country with, that he was considering declaring bankruptcy....

    The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University's library early Thursday before being killed by police was Myron May, a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. [Facebook.com]
  7. Is Duval over-suspending black students? The district doesn't know, and finding out will take five weeks and cost $3,000

    Blog

    On his way to becoming superintendent of Florida's sixth largest school system, Nikolai Vitti specialized in turning around some of the worst-performing schools in the state.

    A job like that requires attention to detail and a good grasp of how things like race and poverty can affect how students get an education. And it would have taught Vitti that inequities in how discipline is handed out can be one major barrier to learning in low-performing schools....

  8. County ignored warning signs about homeless program

    Local Government

    TAMPA — As Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program was unraveling in September, County Administrator Mike Merrill blamed a pair of misguided middle managers.

    They were at fault, he said, for a program that sent the homeless to live in a squalid, illegal trailer park off Florida Avenue.

    They no longer worked for the county, Merrill told commissioners on Sept. 18.

    But they weren't the only county leaders who were warned of problems and allowed them to continue....

    Michael Doyle, an outspoken advocate for the area’s poor, wrote an email August 18 to the county’s director of Family and Aging Services department about the “deplorable” conditions at Good Samaritan Inn on Florida Avenue.
  9. County recoups homeless aid from deaf 4-year-old

    Local Government

    TAMPA

    Salvation for Sam Cruz Jr. and his family came from the unlikeliest of places: his tiny, disabled 4-year-old son.

    Driven into homelessness when Cruz lost his job, the child, his parents and his five brothers and sisters turned to Hillsborough County for help. The county's Homeless Recovery program placed them in a cramped, bug-infested trailer that leaked when it rained.

    In February 2012, the family found a ticket out....

    Sam Cruz and Melanie Bortz watch TV with their children, from left, Karma, 3, Kaiya, 6, Benjamin, 13, Michael, 11, Sam, 5, and Alex, 4, at their Tampa home last week. The home they rent was recently bought in a foreclosure auction, and Cruz said the new owner is threatening to raise their $540 rent.
  10. Hillsborough County sent the sick and dying to squalid, unlicensed home

    Local Government

    TAMPA
    Bay Gardens Retirement Village seemed to get worse every year.

    In 2005, state inspectors found filthy, reeking bathrooms, a raccoon living in the ceiling and a patient whose genitals had been bitten by ants.

    In 2007, they discovered a demented man, smeared in his own filth, plucking at his colostomy bag in a stinking, roach-infested room....

    Bay Gardens resident Kathryn Fuller, right, takes a look at Matthew Kluge’s arm, which was bandaged following dialysis. Fuller, a Homeless Recovery client, also runs the kitchen and is night manager at the facility.
  11. Hillsborough agency sent the homeless — and public money — to unsafe, bug-infested homes

    News

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County has paid millions of dollars to house homeless people, including veterans, the mentally ill and families with small children, in filthy, crime-ridden slums across the city, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

    For years, the poor have lined up at the county's door for help, and county caseworkers have responded by sending them to hazardous and neglected places. There, they were forced to breathe moldy air, step over unmopped puddles of human waste or sleep on mattresses infested with bedbugs....

    “It was the most disgusting, deplorable environment you could imagine,” former resident Edward Mullen said, recalling syringes he saw on the communal bathroom floor. He, his wife and three children stayed there after he lost his job.
  12. Hillsborough staff: Use nonprofits instead of Homeless Recovery

    News

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County government should close its troubled Homeless Recovery program and seek help from private social service agencies experienced at finding housing for the poor, county staff will tell commissioners today.

    A staff memo released to the Tampa Bay Times says the county should ask Hillsborough's nonprofit homeless aid organizations to submit proposals for how they could help provide emergency housing and other services for the poor, in the hopes a new program could replace Homeless Recovery by Jan. 1....

    William “Hoe’’ Brown owned filthy properties used by the program.
  13. Hillsborough spent millions housing the homeless but can't track where they lived

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County has poured millions of tax dollars over the past 20 years into a program meant to cover rent for homeless people.

    But county leaders can't say for sure whether the landlords they paid actually housed anyone.

    A computer system tracks rent checks paid each month under the Homeless Recovery program. The system, though, does not record the addresses where tenants are supposed to be living....

    People line up outside the Hillsborough Homeless Recovery office in August. The agency came under scrutiny earlier this month after a Times report that clients were sent to live in a squalid mobile home park owned by William “Hoe” Brown.
  14. Educators running government-funded tutoring companies create concern over conflicts

    K12

    As principal of some of the poorest public schools in Alachua County, Beth Le Clear urged her students to take advantage of subsidized tutoring, extra instruction for Florida's neediest kids.

    Scores of her schoolchildren — some so destitute they wore grocery bags for underwear — enrolled and got the study help they sorely needed.

    But they weren't the only ones who benefited....

    Alachua County Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd says he does not feel deceived by Beth Le Clear over her involvement with Twisted Tutors.
  15. Lawmakers battle behind the scenes for tutoring money

    K12

    TALLAHASSEE — As the legislative session neared an end this month, state Rep. Erik Fresen found himself in an awkward position.

    Just last year, Fresen helped keep a torrent of public money flowing to private tutoring firms.

    But after revelations of fraud and lax oversight turned the program into a black eye for education reform, his new orders from House leadership were clear: End subsidized tutoring, and do it now....

    Sen. Jeff Brandes