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Pinellas Point charter school dogged by delays

A July 15 deadline is closing in for the Bay Village Center for Education, which still has to find 100 students.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 26, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- An August opening approaches, but a charter school proposed for the Pinellas Point area is barely more than the vision of its founders.

The Bay Village Center for Education Inc., has a board of directors. It has a principal. It appears to have secured a site. Missing is a student body, and to open its doors Bay Village must have 100 students enrolled by July 15.

Organizers hope pupils will come forward now that they have found a location at Maximo Presbyterian Church, 3200 58th Ave. S. The church property offers ready-made classrooms and bucolic scenery, they say.

This will be the third site proposed for the school. A deal to use the largely empty Bay Village Shopping Center, 2220 62nd Ave. S, fell through last year, causing organizers to cancel plans to open for the 2001 school year.

A few months ago, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 1901 62nd Ave. S, offered to set up portable classrooms on its property. That idea proved too costly.

Stan Crooms, a longtime member of Maximo Presbyterian, on Tuesday said the church was happy to help: "Right now, we are just trying to work out the details.

"Unless something unusual happens, we expect the school to be there, if they are able to do all the things they need to do."

And there may lie the challenge for Bay Village's founders.

First, there is the matter of getting enough students. If Bay Village can't do that, said Marcia McGhee, president of the Bay Village board of directors, "We will have to regroup."

"Bay Village school board is committed to follow the process until the last possible minute," she said.

"What we will do if we do not get students for this year is yet to be decided. ... We will be depending a great deal on the fact that we know that there's an interest in the community."

The Pinellas County School Board and the City of St. Petersburg also must approve the Maximo Presbyterian site, but McGhee said approval from both bodies likely will be routine.

The process should be straightforward, agreed Tom Wittmer, assistant Pinellas School Board attorney. The next School Board meeting at which the subject can be discussed is July 30. Classes are scheduled to begin on Aug. 7.

Mrs. McGhee said she feels a strong commitment to the new school.

"The founding board has an interest in the middle school age group. We are trying to present a program that would provide individual attention in this age group and also place them in a smaller campus setting," she said.

Pinellas County currently has three charter schools, Academie Da Vinci, Whole Child at the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, and Athenian Academy. Love of Learning and Bay Village are scheduled to open this year. Although they are operated by private groups, charter schools receive public money and are considered public schools.

The Bay Village Center for Education plans to offer a traditional academic curriculum with a focus on character development and strong parental involvement. During its inaugural year, it will have only sixth-grade classes. The expected capacity will be 750 students in three years.

Founders of the Bay Village Center for Education include Mrs. McGhee, a retired social worker, and former St. Petersburg City Council Member Larry Williams. Others are teacher Dennis DiNoia, who will be the school's principal, retired art teachers Francesco P. and Marilyn L. Scarpetta, attorney Phillip Ryan, homemaker Pamela Williams, and Patricia Zachem, a library technical assistant at the Stetson University College of Law.

"There will be a core of us who are still trying to work this through. It's been a long, hard task," Mrs. McGhee said.

"We first went to the School Board in November 1999. And of course, prior to that, we had worked for months putting together a legitimate proposal and we did not anticipate as many sessions before the board or the added factors that came up," she said.

"When we lost our bid with the Bay Village Shopping Center, that's when we really fell off track. I had no idea it was going to be this difficult."

The vision is a great one, she said, "but the realities are a little more pragmatic. We will persist toward this effort for middle-schoolers."

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