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COMPANY THAT RUNS CHARTER SCHOOLS FACES SUIT

Ten Ohio charter schools have filed a joint lawsuit against White Hat Management, the for-profit company that runs two Pinellas County charter schools and eight more throughout Florida.

The suit alleges that the company, which is based in Ohio, received 96 percent of the public dollars sent to the school, but failed to invest that money in the classroom or to provide required financial disclosures. It also claims that Ohio's charter school laws leave local governing boards helpless against their managers.

The Pinellas County School Board earlier this month voted not to renew its contract with Life Skills Center of St. Petersburg, a 5-year-old school dedicated to helping students obtain diplomas after falling behind in traditional schools. The board cited a poor graduation rate and other academic concerns.

The school is expected to close Wednesday, leaving 22 staff members without jobs or severance. A second campus, Life Skills Center of North Pinellas in Clearwater, remains open.

Pinellas County School Board attorney David Koperski said he wasn't immediately aware of the details of the Ohio lawsuit and knew of no similar action locally.

In April, a Life Skills campus in Winter Haven narrowly escaped closure after Polk County school officials expressed concern similar to that alleged in the Ohio lawsuit: that the company was not spending enough money in the classroom. After student appeals, Polk officials granted a one-year contract.

Another Life Skills in Lakeland was shuttered in 2009 after board members voted not to renew its charter, concerned about its low graduation rate. An investigation there also found that the charter school inflated its attendance numbers and received $101,000 from the state for students it didn't have.

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