Displaced students on parents, officials minds

Published March 25, 2007

The owners of the Richard Milburn Academy, an alternative high school, see it as a money loser.

Pasco school district officials see it as another ambitious but failed academic experiment.

But to the students and parents, the New Port Richey charter school felt like their last and best chance of salvaging anything meaningful from troubled academic careers.

That's why they're so disappointed and angry over news that the school will close in June. They feel caught in the middle of a feud between the school's operators and the county school district.

"They've decided to throw in the towel because of the harassment from the School Board. The School Board doesn't like charter schools," said a frustrated Eileen Clarke, whose son, Jonathan, has been attending Richard Milburn for three years. "It's about saving face."

There are many successful charter schools around the state. But in Pasco, the record has been mixed and has included some embarrassing failures.

Initiatives like Richard Milburn are crucial to parents who have given up on the public schools' ability to educate children like Jonathan, for whom basic reading and writing is a daily struggle.

"This school works," Clarke said. "It was like night and day. He's actually learning."

Clearly, there's a big difference between how parents and the school district viewed the school.

Richard Milburn Academy struggled financially and academically. There wasn't always enough staff to meet the needs of the school's more than 140 students. And graduation? Only seven of the 23 seniors at the school will graduate this year.

Parents such as Clarke worry that without the alternative school, some students will drop out, and the county's graduation numbers will look worse next year.

Meanwhile, district officials are scrambling to figure out what's best for these students: GED testing or other programs or enrollment at Marchman Technical Center. They'll meet Monday with students and their parents to discuss options.

Some fear that many of these students will not even finish out the school year if they know there will be no school to return to in August.

Said Nancy Scowcroft, who oversees charter schools for the school district. "We don't want to lose these kids."

No one does.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.