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  1. The Education Gradebook

Hillsborough set to close online academy, citing 'mismanagement' and 'neglect'

TAMPA — With a vote today, the Hillsborough County School Board is expected to close an online charter school after district administrators found a long list of deficiencies that they said amounted to "gross neglect."

Florida Virtual Academy at Hillsborough County, which serves more than 200 students and is not related to the state's Florida Virtual School, has agreed to close in a month.

A June 16 termination letter from superintendent Jeff Eakins says the academy wasn't properly recording enrollment, attendance, grades and student medical information. Cumulative folders were not sent on time to schools that received the virtual students, and employee data was not updated in district computers.

Aside from these bookkeeping issues, the district said the academy didn't make sure students had the right examinations and immunizations, didn't fingerprint teachers in a timely manner and fell down in numerous areas involving special education students and their individual education plans.

Nor did the school document that it met the needs of English language learners, the termination letter said. Governance issues also existed, along with a lack of notice to parents when teachers were "out of field," or teaching subjects outside their expertise.

In addition, the district alleges the school did not meet the required 95 percent participation rate for state assessments in the last two years and was given an "I" for incomplete as a grade.

"The above listed deficiencies involve blatant mismanagement and gross neglect by the Board of FLVA," Eakins wrote. "Moreover, these issues have been brought to FLVA's attention on numerous occasions over the past school year without any serious follow-up by the school. There can be no doubt that these deficiencies have negatively impacted academic achievement of the students of FLVA."

District records show the 246 children enrolled last year came from schools throughout the district, with the largest groupings from Robles Elementary, and Jennings and Giunta Middle Schools.

Melissa Ley, chairwoman of the local governing board, disagreed that the school's deficiencies were harmful to students. "Absolutely, the kids were getting a fantastic education," she said.

She said many of the problems were addressed, but not quickly enough to satisfy district timeliness.

A former Pinellas County schoolteacher, Ley has two of her own children in a sister virtual school in Pinellas County.

Both schools, and others in the state, get their curriculum from Florida Virtual Academy, a publicly traded company in Herndon, Va., that reported $9 million in profits on $873 million in revenues in the year ended June 30.

Because they are charter schools, the money to buy the curriculum and operate the schools comes from state taxes.

An audit for the 2014-15 school year shows the state gave the Hillsborough school more than $1 million. Of that, $178,000 was used for instruction and $570,000 for instructional curriculum development.

In the past year, schools in the K12 group have agreed to change their name to Florida Cyber Charter Academy to avoid confusion with the state online school, Ley said.

Problems have existed beyond Hillsborough. Recently, two K12 schools closed in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The Pinellas school district, like Hillsborough's, moved this year to terminate its charter with Florida Virtual Academy. But the Pinellas school is attempting to appeal that action.

Ley said the issues in Hillsborough stemmed from difficulty navigating data systems that vary from district to district, and the challenge of keeping the local volunteer board together. Members weren't always able to fulfill duties because of medical problems and job responsibilities, she said.

As the children are already in virtual classes with students from Pinellas, Clay, Duval and other counties, she said, she is optimistic many will stay with the program. "It will be a completely seamless transition," she said.

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