tampabay.com

Charter school's money woes mount

Language Academy's future looks grimmer as a donor stops payment on a check for $9,818.

By Jeffrey S. Solochek
Published March 2, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - The financially troubled Language Academy charter school has run into another money problem.

A check from an overseas donor worth about $9,818, which was supposed to help the school avoid a $36,000 shortfall by the end of the school year, has bounced. Its donor, the principal's brother-in-law, stopped payment on the donation. The principal, Joyce Nunn, told district officials in a letter that she didn't know why.

Now district leaders, who threatened in October to shutter the school because of its finances, are again questioning whether the Language Academy can remain viable.

Assistant superintendent Sandra Ramos called this a "serious situation" and noted it marks a "breach of our past agreement" with the charter school, in a letter Monday to superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

"The staff is currently reviewing the financial status of the school and will bring a recommendation to you for the March 20, 2007, board meeting," Ramos wrote.

Nunn could not be reached for comment. In a Feb. 19 letter to charter school supervisor Nancy Scowcroft, she wrote that she is working to replace the money to reach agreed-upon goals.

"We did raise over $30,000 and we will continue to raise funds. The school has planned to run three fundraisers over the next couple of months along with Tropicana Field outings," she wrote, adding that she expected at least another $3,000 to come in. "I am sick over this situation and do not know what else to do."

Scowcroft refused to speculate whether the turn of events would lead to the school's closure. So far, she said, neither she nor anyone else at the district had recently reviewed the school's balance sheets.

"They are working with a financial adviser," Scowcroft said. "I understand they are paying their bills. That is a very good sign, at least right now."

The school also has increased its enrollment to 90 children, she added, meaning it is getting some extra state funding. If its leaders can raise more cash, or if they make judicious budget decisions, the school could work through its problems, Scowcroft said, adding that the district has no desire to close a school this close to the end of the academic year.

Still, Scowcroft did not downplay the severity of the situation.

"We're always concerned," she said. "There have been financial problems in the past, and here is another red flag coming up. We have to look at it very carefully."

School Board chairwoman Marge Whaley was not too charitable toward the school.

"The only thing that can happen is, we go back to 90 days and you close," Whaley said. "I don't know if the board is going to be willing to give the Language Academy another chance."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.