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Pinellas School Board moves to close NorthStar Academy in St. Petersburg

The charter school’s financial backer recently withdrew its support.
NorthStar Academy of Pinellas is a charter school in St. Petersburg. The Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday gave the school a 90-day notice that it planned to terminate the school's contract, citing financial and enrollment issues.
NorthStar Academy of Pinellas is a charter school in St. Petersburg. The Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday gave the school a 90-day notice that it planned to terminate the school's contract, citing financial and enrollment issues. [ Google Maps ]
Published May 10|Updated May 11

Citing concerns over enrollment and financial troubles, the Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday gave NorthStar Academy a 90-day notice that it would terminate the school’s contract.

The charter school, which received a five-year contract in 2019, has struggled to meet its target of at least 100 students, with daily enrollment hovering in the 30s, superintendent Mike Grego told the board. To break even, the school has indicated it would need to have closer to 300 students.

As a result, NorthStar has become financially unfeasible, Grego said, to the point of having lost the support of EdisonLearning, which had said it would underwrite $683,863 in loans and expenses such as payroll.

EdisonLearning CEO Thomas M. Jackson wrote to NorthStar’s board on May 4, saying he did not see how the school could pay off the loans or avert a deficit, and that it would be “financially imprudent to make additional loans to the school.”

The Pinellas district had attempted to work through the school’s problems over several months, said Amy Hayes, director of charter schools. That included three letters calling for corrective action and setting up a plan to address issues relating to career program offerings, reading instruction and services for students with disabilities, in addition to the financial troubles, Hayes said.

Hayes said the district ultimately determined that the school failed to correct its deficiencies.

The school’s principal was in a meeting and could not be reached for comment.

School Board member Nicole Carr lamented the decline of the school, which is located at 2220 62nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg and serves students in seventh through 12th grades who need an alternative to traditional education. She raised concerns that a new Florida law creating a state-level charter authorizer could lead to similar future scenarios that could hurt other at-risk students.

“It will have a negative effect to really determine at the local level what is needed for charter schools,” Carr said.

Board member Caprice Edmond asked what the district will do to ensure the children attending the charter will be helped.

Hayes said the district will give NorthStar 14 days to appeal the board’s action, and once a final determination is made, it will work to get all families adequate information to make a transition to another district or charter school. The 90-day notice at this time of year is intended to allow families time to make the change over the summer and not in the middle of classes.

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