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    Parents, staff fault 2 schools with vouchers

    They complain students don't get the services they require.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 15, 2002


    Parents and teachers from two private schools in Pensacola that have received nearly $500,000 in state vouchers said Thursday that the schools failed to provide books, supplies and therapy the students need.

    The parents, joined by teachers and administrators from the schools, question where the money went and have complained to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is checking into the allegations.

    "All I know is the money is not being spent the way it should," said Hazel Allen, whose 7-year-old son Jesse is a second-grader at the Bellview Junction Academy in Pensacola. "They (the state) need to have some kind of control."

    Parents and administrators at the school said students are not getting the speech therapy and other services they require. They further claim that donated books are being used and teachers must spend their own money to provide supplies, food and milk for the children.

    After making the allegations, the teachers and administrators from the schools said they were fired Thursday.

    The state's McKay Scholarship Program is for children with disabilities. So far under the program, the state has shifted $1.193-million to private schools as 4,400 children have left public schools for private.

    Similar complaints have been made at a St. Petersburg church school that accepts state vouchers and is run by the same management company that runs the Pensacola schools. The management company, AJC 2000 Management, is run by Art and Angel Rocker of Navarre Beach near Pensacola.

    In addition to the Bethel Metropolitan Christian School in St. Petersburg and two schools in Pensacola, AJC 2000 manages three others in Florida, including the Bishop Academy in Tampa.

    After the problems at Bethel in October, some parents left the school and a new head of the school was appointed. Several parents at the school now say the problems have been remedied.

    Art Rocker could not be reached for comment Thursday. His lawyer, Tom Gilliam, said the accusations at the Pensacola schools "seem to be misunderstandings about how much money is available under the McKay Scholarships. Art is making do with the resources he has."

    On average, the Rockers are receiving about $6,300 per student annually at their six schools.

    In October, Education Commissioner Charlie Crist had his staff investigate the parent complaints in St. Petersburg. The task force made recommendations for tightening the control of scholarship money statewide.

    But the task force also made it clear the state has little control or oversight over the private schools that accept school vouchers.

    "I do understand a private school is run differently," said Barbara Cupit, ex-director of guidance for the AJC 2000 schools, who said she was fired Thursday. "But if they receive funding for these specialized services and the services are not provided -- that's wrong."

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