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Today: Pinellas prepares to turn three public schools over to a private company

Students hurry to catch a bus at Azalea Middle in St. Petersburg, one of three struggling schools that could be turned over to a private operator under a contract being considered today by the Pinellas County School Board. [Times (2014)]
Published Feb. 26, 2018

Joining others around the state, the Pinellas County school system is expected today to enter new territory with an agreement that could put three struggling public schools in the hands of a private company.

The School Board will vote on a contract with Learning Sciences International to operate Fairmount Park and Lakewood elementary schools and Azalea Middle School, all in St. Petersburg.

The deal is the result of a controversial new state law, known by its bill name HB 7069. It requires any school with three consecutive grades below a C to choose one of three "turnaround" options: reassigning students to another school, closing the school and reopening it as a charter, or contracting with an outside entity to operate the school.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Under a new law, some public schools will be managed by companies. Pinellas is getting ready

Pinellas is preparing to choose the latter.

Lakewood Elementary currently has a state grade of a D, while Azalea and Fairmount Park have Fs. The state will not issue state grades until June or July, so it's not clear if all or any of the schools will fall below a C again. But Learning Sciences stands to be involved either way.

The district's contract with the West Palm Beach company calls for two options. It would pay LSI $624,000 next year for any of the three schools that does not earn a C this summer. Should the schools' grades improve to a C or better, and LSI is no longer needed under state statute, the district would pay $498,000 to make one school a model school as agreed to in the contract, and pay $198,000 for supports at the other schools.

"We have developed the contract proposal with the intent of implementing permanent systems of support in each of the three schools that will result in each school consistently earning a school grade of 'A' in future years," district administrators said in a report to the School Board.

This is a developing story. The board meets starting at 5 p.m. at district headquarters in Largo. Follow reporter Colleen Wrighton Twitter for updates.

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