Milburn Academy shutdown would be third in Florida

ataylor@bradenton.comSeptember 28, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Bradenton’s Richard Milburn Academy may be closing sooner than expected, making it at least the third Milburn school to be shut down in Florida.

Manatee County district officials have targeted Oct. 31 for the Bradenton charter school to be closed, school board attorney John Bowen said Tuesday. School board members have at least two meetings -- Oct. 10 and Oct. 24 -- to finalize the fate of the school by vote.

“We are working with them (Milburn Academy officials) so that we can have a smooth transition and the kids can continue to get an education,” Bowen said.

Superintendent Tim McGonegal recommended the academy, which opened in 1999, be closed after a formal investigation showed the school had not fulfilled graduation requirements. Courses did not comply with Florida State Standards, students classified as “special needs” were not qualified for the classification and academic grades had not reflected student performance.

“We are working to provide information to the district that they may need to understand the students’ records,” said Donna Eldridge, vice president of Richard Milburn Academy’s High School Division in Virginia.

Eldridge said she did not know district officials set a closing date. Varying information has reached her office about the Bradenton school, she said.

“Our goal is to provide services to the students,” Eldridge told the Herald in a phone interview Tuesday. “They (school district officials) have not been receptive to that.”

She added her organization wants to keep the program in place and they are “looking at options.”

McGonegal said the school can opt to go along with the recommended closing or contest it by requesting a Division of Administrative Hearing.

This would not be the first time one of the academy’s schools has been closed in Florida. Schools in Sarasota and Pasco counties were closed in 2006 and 2007. It is unclear why the Pasco site closed.

The Sarasota County School Board chose not to renew the charter of the academy in 2006. A letter was sent to Robert Crosby, president of Richard Milburn Academy of Florida Inc., in May 2006 about the Sarasota school.

In the letter, then-School Superintendent Gary Norris explained some of the reasons the board did not renew the school’s charter in Sarasota County.

“Failure to meet requirements for student performance stated in the charter in the areas of attendance, student academic performance, graduation rate and completion of required transition to work programs,” the letter stated.

That doesn’t surprise local resident Rodney Jones, who has been speaking to Bradenton school officials on behalf of the students.

“The reality of it is, they lose the schools as quickly as they get them,” Jones said.

Students came to Jones saying they weren’t getting report cards or progress reports last school year. The investigatory report found that many graduating seniors did not qualify for graduation, and Jones said many underclassmen currently attending the school have lost class credit as well.

“There are 80 to 100 students that didn’t get their credits,” Jones said.

Eldridge admits that the school has had “problems.” Since the investigation started, the lead administrator at the school, Krista Morton, has left. Eldridge said she has taken “a large number” of staffers with her, but she would not comment further on Morton’s departure.

“There were some mistakes made,” Eldridge conceded. “We have people on hand now looking at what happened and how to provide documentation so that students are taken care of.”

Eldridge addressed some of the findings in the school district’s report. One finding involved a student who had not attended the school but received a Milburn Academy diploma. Eldridge believes this student came in and registered but never returned to the school.

When Milburn Academy officials looked up his records, it showed he had graduated from another school, she said.

“In reality, he did not graduate with us,” Eldridge said. “I think that was a data miscommunication in the system.”

Also in the report, a special needs student had received numerous class credits in one year. Then a waiver was requested for that student not to take the FCAT. That individual should not have received those credits, according to the school district report.

“That was not handled the way it should have been,” Eldridge said. “It does not appear to have been appropriate at all.”

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