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Language Academy offers new survival plan

The Language Academy charter school plans to operate on a lean budget this month, possibly cutting teacher paychecks, in hopes of staving off the school's closing.

Officials presented their latest financial outline to the school district Wednesday. It's the third such plan intended to keep the struggling school afloat since the Pasco School Board voted in early October to close the school by Jan. 1 if its finances didn't improve.

Currently, the school owes $137,600 to private collectors and about $35,000 to the school district for overpayments. District officials say their immediate goal is to make sure the charter school pays back the district and is able to operate within its means without accruing more debt.

A financial plan summary faxed to the Times Wednesday evening focused mostly on getting through December.

The school has thrown out a prior agreement with a management company that intended to take over Language Academy, saying it can survive by cutting short-term expenses instead.

Language Academy will pay the Pasco school district back this month by deducting $35,000 from the $40,000 in public funds the school gets each month. The district overpaid the charter school by $35,000 because Language Academy estimated it would have 100 students. When enrollment was counted in October, only 84 students attended the school.

The payback will leave the school with a tight budget for December. Officials say they have $9,500 in savings that will help pay operating expenses.

They also plan to pay for expenses through public money it gets, including funds to pay for rent and transportation costs.

Still the school's teachers may have to chip in, too.

"Teachers are fully aware they may only get one paycheck in December and they are okay with that," principal Joyce Nunn said. "They know it is worth it, and we will get back on the right track in January."

After the payoff in December, the school would be able to use its full allotment of public funds for expenses, if the district lets it remain open. The charter school would then have to show an auditor it can pay off its debt to private collectors.

In the financial plan, officials also said they are working with parents to aggressively recruit more students to the school and that financial specialists and an attorney would help them oversee spending, contracts and legal issues that may arise.

The School Board will vote on the financial plan Dec. 19.

One thing missing from the plan was a previous agreement to work with Superior Management, a company which runs the Plato Academy charter school in Clearwater.

Superior was to take control of the charter school and give the Language Academy $50,000 to help make expenses in the short term. The company would then collect 10 percent of the school's public funding.

But at a meeting of the Language Academy's board of directors Tuesday night, the school's officials decided against it. Nunn said the school couldn't afford to pay the monthly fee.

Nancy Scowcroft, the district's supervisor of charter schools, said the Language Academy may have been overeager to take help from Superior Management before learning all the details of the arrangement.

Steve Christopoulous, the principal of the Plato Academy and head of Superior Management, said he was surprised when he heard the Learning Academy was going to back out of the deal. Still, he said, his company would offer free consulting in the future if needed.

The Language Academy's financial woes came to light about two years ago, when an independent auditor declared the school in a state of "financial emergency."

Nunn has said the school's problems are rooted in the former principal and school founder, the Rev. Gary Carson. While he headed the school, it struggled to keep balanced bank accounts and began to accrue debt.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Gina Pace can be reached at (352) 521-6518 or gpace@sptimes.com.

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