A.T. Jones Academy in Carrollwood Faces Closure

The charter school at 4903 Ehrlich Road has been recommended to shut its doors by Hillsborough County officials.

A Carrollwood charter school may be forced to close its doors a month before school starts after Hillsborough school officials learned of a financial deficit and allegations that teachers' insurance was suspended after they continued to pay for it.

Meanwhile, two members of the six-member governing board for A.T. Jones Math, Science and Technology Academy resigned as of Thursday morning, said Jenna Hodgens, the school district's supervisor of charter schools.

It was recommended this spring by MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of schools for Hillsborough county, that the academy close. The school is named after the Rev. Arthur T. Jones, pastor of Bible-Based Fellowship Church, and is located on the same campus as the church on Ehrlich Road.

"They have some outstanding bills they have not paid, and they were in a financial deficit at the end of last year," said Hodgens. "They continued to create a deficit."

Allegations also surfaced that teachers are paying for insurance out of their paychecks even after their insurance was suspended in March of this year, Hodgens said.

Now, officials at the academy face a formal hearing before school district officials at 1 p.m. on Monday, July 30, at the Raymond O. Shelton School Administration Center to determine its fate.

"Since nothing changed, there's a hearing," Hodgens said. "Anytime a charter school doesn't meet standards, the superintendent has authority to make recommendations to the school board regarding the school."

The Carrollwood academy - one of five schools in Hillsborough county that have faced possible termination - , which was up from the 'F' it received from the school district last year, Hodgens said. The academy didn't have enough students with previous year's test scores to garner a state grade for years prior to last, Hodgens said.

About 160 kids are enrolled for the 2012-13 school year, Hodgens said, which starts on Aug. 21. That's down from over 200 students that were enrolled last school year, she said.

Hodgens said parents have expressed their concerns to her about issues at the school, which didn't have an operable website on Thursday evening.

"I had a very vocal parent with a group behind him who wanted to keep the school," said Hodgens. "This week, that same parent and group of parents sent out an email saying they wanted everyone to withdraw. At this point, they're so disgruntled with how the board is managing and governing the school, the sway is now against the school rather than for it."

This isn't the first time the former private school has closed.

In early 2009, the school closed due to decreasing enrollment and money problems, reopening its doors as a charter school in 2010, according to a story in the Tampa Bay Times.

What do you think about the potential closing? Do you think the school should be forced to close? Tell us in the comments.

Camille C. Spencer July 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Parents: Do you think the school should be forced to close, or stay open?
Rachele Shearl July 20, 2012 at 02:47 PM
It's our tax dollars paying for this (and the students are also paying a price). They had their chance and they didn't make it. Close it.
Melij July 20, 2012 at 04:08 PM
My son was a student at this school. I am shocked and appaled at how the board had a blatent disregard to how this will effect the students and parents. a month before school starts and now we need to scramble to find a place for our kids. It is sad that the kids will suffer more then anyone else. Even if the school stayed open after all the stuff that has happend i wouldnt bring my child back to this school. it would take alot for me to trust them again. it seems all the board cared about was money....
Ms. So July 20, 2012 at 04:14 PM
As an educator, I teach accountability to my students at A.T. Jones Academy. In this case, we are witnessing what happens when people who are entrusted with power, are able to act without accountability. A.T. Jones Academy out-preformed the district on 5 out of 8 FCAT / national tests in 2011 to 2012. All we need to succeed is a board that is as capable as our students/staff. In the board meeting last evening (7/19/12), many parents and teachers recommended Immediate replacement of the board with capable people. Such immediate action would allow the school to continue. It is noted in the article that "officials at the academy face a formal hearing before school district officials at 1 p.m. on Monday, July 30, at the Raymond O. Shelton School Administration Center to determine its fate." Hopefully our school district officials will initiate an investigation to assess the willful and grievous actions of the board. Children and educators have been victimized.... if the school district does not take action on such devious and malicious behavior by this board... how can our children ever be safe from the very people entrusted to safeguard their care? Our children deserve justice. ABC Action 10 News covered last night's meeting. View the video here: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/region_hillsborough/at-jones-academy-in-danger-of-shutting-down-parents-allege-financial-mismanegement-by-board
Christopher Leppert July 20, 2012 at 04:31 PM
I disagree with you. My son attended this academy for the past two years and it was a God send. I have three sons in the county and have experienced bad schools before. This academy was never given the proper chance to succeed and unfortunately, only the bad publicity ever gets out to the public. If the school does close, it is a shame that the children are the ones who are harmed here. So for whatever it's worth, my son has achieved great success at A.T Jones. The school offers Mandarin Chinese language and culture courses for students from 1st grade and up. It has special teaching methods for kids so they are having fun while they learn.. The teachers are professional and dedicated and together with their students, create a diverse and safe environment for the kids to develop language, culture and social skills. I will be truly saddened if this school does close. Christopher Leppert
J Pipkins July 20, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Disagree with who? We all agree AT Jones is a great school with great educators and administrative staff. This Board did not give the academy a chance to succeed, which the academy was successful. Mr. Morrison told absolute lies during the meeting last night, confirmed by the principal, who has not been offered ANY position at the school, and the caterer, who absorbed the cost of those parents sending their children to school without lunch money. The caterer actually paid a monthly fee to the school for use of "electricity" and did not receive a dime from the school. Also, how do you wait until you are owed $17,000 before you say something to parents not picking their children up. Most daycare centers charge by the minute after 6pm, which AT Jones had the option of doing. Unfortunately, as Mr Morrison has done in the past, he sat and did NOTHING! As did the rest of the so-called board, who did not have the decency to show their faces. Ms So is exactly right. You don't find it odd the information regarding the principal was not revealed by Mr. Morrison until a parent brought it up? Or that he did not mention the resignations of board members until a parent brought it up? Or that he appeared to be confused and offered different answers to the question of where is the money he withheld from the teachers? And the mystery donor...what a joke!
Lisa S. July 20, 2012 at 07:23 PM
I am deeply saddened by the turn of events. My son is thriving beyond measure at this school and the teachers and principal deserve all of the credit and the thanks. It is so disappointing that a group of individuals with nothing invested like we do (children, education, jobs, etc.) has so much authority without any oversight. They could not see that there are things more valuable than money. The greatest hurt is that we all saw the value in what our children were learning. We saw the value in our staff and our principal. And we have exhausted every reasonable option to try to spin this into something positive. I feel defeated and sad for my child. But I was PROUD to stand alongside the teachers and parents that came last night to express their disappointment. While we were all angry, we mainted our diplomacy and dignity and conveyed our beliefs and opinions.
Tiffie05 July 21, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I am really hurt with what's going on. When I first heard the news about what's going on. The first thing I did was cry, because I know once my son realizes that he is not going back to AT Jones, he will be crushed. He loves this school. I don't understand why we couldn't do some fundraisers, carwashes or something to help raise money to help pay the debt and get new board members. it seems to me that no one tried..if not hard enough.
Tampamom July 21, 2012 at 03:38 PM
This entire situation is very sad. My son loved the school and we as parents have so much respect for Mrs. Kearse and all of the hard working teachers at the school. The school by far exceeded the quality of the local public school we were in previous to AT jones. One thing I don't understand is how the school could be in so much debt over lack of aftercare payments. We used the aftercare the first half of the year and it was clearly stated in the application that payment was due before services rendered. Not only that, it didn't seem to matter whether there was 5 kids or 30 kids in the after care program there was still only 1 teacher per group who stayed after school hours and was paid at an hourly rate to tutor and monitor the aftercare program ( one teacher and room for younger kids and one teacher and room for older kids). Besides the hourly pay to the teachers I don't see where there was any additional expenses or overhead so I'm really confused on the aftercare debt issue. I also know that they were operating with a Skelton admin staff in the office to try and keep expenses at a minimum. We will now have to scramble to find a new school for our child since all of the applications dates have been closed. What a total shame and waste of a lot of hard work by the admin staff, the teachers, the students and all of the parents who volunteered countless hours to help build up and make the school a success.
sarah July 22, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Tiffie05. We as parents did try...when we were notified of the problem..the board kept us in the dark until they had no choice but to tell us. They had the chance to ask the county to help...with the stipulation that they had to agree to 2 years of oversight by the district. They chose not to. The board hurt this school...along with some families that didnt pay their bills. I have been here since day one. I am sad that we are losing this family and level of education.....call bob morrison and express your feelings.
Anthony July 23, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I have no doubt the board made some mistakes and aggregiously mis-handled the finances, but this doesn't all go on them. The administration has to take some blame as well. In this case the administration is really one person which is part of the problem. I think for the most part the board just OK's whatever the principal wanted from a budget perspective. For the most part I really liked the teachers at the school, but the admin I could do without. The school was sorely under staffed. The resources just weren't put into the right places for the school to run properly. The school did some things well, and the small class sizes were nice but it could barely function as a self contained entity. Look at the mess when 3 teachers were out on maternity leave and one more quit. You had Kindergarteners and 1st graders with random sub everyday for a couple of months. How is that an environment to learn in. A lot of those kids had no consistency for a significant amount of time. While all the blame can't be put on the school (some of timing was just bad luck) the whole situation was just not handled well at all. This school has several problems and this is just going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. The school is a decent place for an average kid I think, but gifted kids couldn't grow there. So I 100% believe the school should be shut down. With a new board and new principal they have a chance at doing some good things, but that would take a lot of change.
Lisa S. July 23, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Anthony, you couldn't be more wrong about the Board. They don't just "OK" what the principal says. They are the LAW. Mrs. Kearse could tell them what she needed from a budget perspective (and I can guarantee you she tried repeatedly) until she was blue in the face, but if they ignore her, there is NOTHING she could do about it. The Administration had nothing to do with the collapse. In fact, they had to stand idly by helpless which had to be even worse.
Mary T. July 23, 2012 at 08:10 PM
You must be talking about a different school. The board did nothing to find outside funding for the school. We heard in October that they were actively pursueing a potential donor. In December the board did not have enough money to pay for teacher insurance and it was cancelled. The teachers were unaware of this until they received a cancellation notice from the insurance company. The board then started cost cutting measures by decreasing staff. In April, the board again decided not to pay the teachers health insurance without informing them. The board's response was to tell everyone in May that they had found someone who was going to donate $100,000 to the school and they expected the check in the next 2 weeks. We all heard the same story at the June board meeting. And just last week, Mr. Morrison stated that he expected the check this week. Yes, the failure of this school is solely the blame of the board. As far as your statement that the kids had no consistency - the staff worked as a team to provide the best education for all the scholars in that school. Those students out performed the county and state on the majority of assessments at all grade levels. You also said that "the school is a decent place for an average kid I think, but gifted kids couldn't grow there". I guess your kid must not be gifted or just didn't try. You will not receive the same opportunities offered at A.T. Jones for ALL scholars in any public school gifted classroom.
Lisa S. July 24, 2012 at 07:17 AM
Well said Mary. My son is gifted and he not only grew, he THRIVED within this learning environment. To say that I am sad is an understatement because I know there is nothing like this out there, not in public gifted, not even in the majority of private schools. Only the astronomically priced schools even come close.
Lisa S. July 24, 2012 at 07:20 AM
All the car washes and lemonade stands in the world would not have been enough to undo what had already been done. We were kept in the dark for a significant amount of time. And believe me, we TRIED everything we could to keep the school open.
Lisa S. July 24, 2012 at 07:23 AM
The reason you can't understand why is because it isn't TRUE. They are blaming the parents' afterschool debt on the reason for the financial issues to deflect the blame from themselves for mismanagement. There is OVER $100 K in debt.
Tanya Vodnansky Grable July 24, 2012 at 05:56 PM
The Kids did learn, and the teachers did a great job. But the school did receive an "F" and now a "C". That's not very promising. I had a teacher at the beginign of the year that would not challenge my child because she had to wait until all students we on the same level. With the thought of no child left behind, what about the kids that are being held back. Some children could not thrive b/c they sat there waiting for the other children to "catch up" while he was bored. Anyway that's neither here nor there. The school was good, kids learned. I agree, the board needed to be more invoved, but it is VOLUNTARY and the ADMIN needed more help and should not have made promises and drop the ball. There was NO effort to get the fundraising going until the last couple months when we started the year needing and waiting to fundraise. It's all a mess and it's done now. We need to move on. I do wonder how all of these aprents that are not "in the know" are going to be informed.
Tampa Parent July 25, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I'm not sure which ADMIN any of you are talking about, but the young lady in the office these past few months was a breath of fresh air! She worked very hard, and she and Mrs. Kearse made a great team. I was led to believe she was able to clean up the after care system and put a solid number on the debt in that area. I also know parents and teachers helped out in the office, because it became a fun place to be. We were all like family. We made it work. My question: What does the administration have to do with $100,000 of debt or lack of communication and follow thru from the board?


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