One operator for eight struggling Hillsborough schools

Trey Traviesa’s MGT consulting is up for a contract worth up to $4 million.
Kimbell Elementary School. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Kimbell Elementary School. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times] [ MARLENE SOKOL ]
Published June 9, 2020|Updated June 9, 2020

TAMPA — Eight struggling schools in Hillsborough County will be overseen by one consultanting firm this school year, subject to a vote Tuesday by the School Board .

The proposed contract with MGT Consulting follows a letter from Superintendent Addison Davis that ended the district’s relationship with Phalen Leadership Academy, a charter-like organization in Indiana that was hired in 2018. MGT is headed up by Trey Traviesa, who represented parts of Tampa and East Hillsborough in the legislature between 2004 and 2008.

External operators, which are more accurately described as consultants, enter the picture if a school has a string of low grades under the state’s accountability system. Since 2018, they have been allowed as an alternative to harsher measures, such as closing the school or converting it to an independently operated charter school.

Of the three schools that used Phalen's services in 2018-2019, only one - Sheehy Elementary School - showed clear improvement, and saw its grade rise to a C.

Phalen was allowed to continue its work at Foster and Oak Park Elementary for the 2019-20 year. When Folsom and McDonald elementary schools joined the list, those two schools were also assigned to Phalen.

But, for four more deeply challenged schools - James, Kimbell, Robles Elementary and Sulphur Springs K-8 - the district brought in MGT. At time time, state officials were not convinced that Phalen could bring about the desired results.

It is not clear, from the available documents, why the district is now chosing to place MGT in charge of all eight schools. As the state skipped a year of Florida Standards Assessment testing and school grades because of the COVID-19 shut-downs, it also is not entirely clear how the two operators compare in results.

The contract, posted on the board agenda, lists an estimated one-year fee of $4.1 million for MGT’s work at all eight schools. Depending on MGT’s results, that $4.1 million could be reduced by penalities of $1.26 million to $2 million.