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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. Pinellas downplays problems at failing schools, but hires leader to fix them

    K12

    LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday aired a video in which local business leaders praised district officials and downplayed the troubles at five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. Minutes later, however, board members voted to hire a new administrator whose job will be to help turn those schools around.

    The moves sent conflicting signals about how board members view the condition of the five schools, even as superintendent Mike Grego works to fix them. ...

    Mike Grego, Pinellas County school superintendent (in background on left), looks on as Pastor Martin Rainey addresses the audience during a workshop evening at John Hopkins Middle School Center for the Arts, Journalism and Multimedia. (November 17, 2014)
  2. Failure Factories: Pinellas suspends black kids more than virtually every other big Florida county

    Education

    Most large Florida school districts are moving away from suspending children for nonviolent misbehavior — part of a nationwide consensus that harsh discipline falls unfairly on black kids and leaves struggling students too far behind.

    The Pinellas County School District is an outlier.

    Its leaders say teachers and principals know best, and they should be free to suspend students as they see fit....

    Black children in Pinellas are suspended at rates seen in virtually no other large school district in Florida. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
  3. 'Failure Factories': Duncan blasts Pinellas school system for 'education malpractice' (w/video)

    Education

    ST. PETERSBURG

    U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered a stinging rebuke Friday to the Pinellas County School District, calling the rapid decline of five predominantly black neighborhood schools a "man-made disaster" and "education malpractice."

    Standing in Campbell Park Elementary, Duncan said: "What has happened to too many kids, for too long, is unacceptable. It's heartbreaking. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me gets very, very angry."...

    U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, right, talks with the media after a meeting at Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg on Friday. He and his successor, John King, visited the school in response to the Tampa Bay Times investigation called Failure Factories. Duncan said, "What has happened to too many kids, for too long, is unacceptable. It's heartbreaking. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me gets very, very angry." [DIRK SHADD | Times]
  4. Principals at five failing Pinellas schools claim improvements in teacher turnover, discipline

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — Principals of five failing elementary schools on the city's south side are pointing to a decrease in teacher turnover and a drop in student discipline referrals as evidence that the schools are improving.

    Their comments, made Wednesday at a packed meeting with leaders of the county's black community, were the first in public by the schools' leaders since the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation focusing on their schools....

    Answering questions, from left, are Lakewood principal Cynthia Kidd, Maximo principal LaKisha Falana, Melrose principal Nanette Grasso and Campbell Park principal Robert Ovalle.
  5. 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. ...

    Sami Scott holds a Confederate battle flag during the public comments segment of Tuesday's Pinellas School Board meeting. "This is the flag the Pinellas County School District is offering us for our black children," she said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  6. 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.
  7. 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....

    From left: Davion Cummings, 12, who will be a seventh-grader at John Hopkins; Marley Morrow, 7, a second-grader at Melrose; and Maliyah Morrow, 5, a kindergartner at Melrose, along with their mother Julia Cromartie, on far right, listens during a community forum with Pinellas County Schools superintendent Michael Grego and Pinellas County School Board Member Rene Flowers at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
  8. 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.
  9. 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....

    Myron May, the FSU shooter, stayed here in Wewahitchka during the three weeks before the shooting. May, far right, is engrossed in a book while friends socialize.
  10. 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]
  11. 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....

  12. 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....

    People line up outside Homeless Recovery on Aug. 6 on Tampa Street in Tampa. The county plans to shutter the program by Tuesday and nonprofits are supposed to take it over in January. Meanwhile, people on the streets are struggling to find help.
  13. 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....

    Kaiya Cruz, 6, leans over to speak to her brother, Sam, 5, center, while Alex, 4, watches TV last month. Because Sam is deaf, Kaiya said she has to lean in close for him to hear her. With the family in one place, Sammie is flourishing, his parents said.
  14. 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....

    George Thomas says he has never mistreated residents.
  15. 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....

    A sign in the lobby of the Good Samaritan Inn. City of Tampa code enforcement officers have been called to the rooming house 13 times in the past five years. They recorded complaints of leaky ceilings, mold, feral cats, roaches and, within the past two years, bedbugs and biting flies.