A.T. Jones Academy officially closed; letter emailed to parents, faculty

CARROLLWOOD - Dozens of teachers and hundreds of families learned Wednesday afternoon they must find new jobs and a new school for their children to attend because A.T. Jones Academy does not have the finances to open its doors this year.

"I want to stay with my friends," sobbed Delana Kruining, 8, who attended the charter school along with her sister Katie, 6.

Hillsborough County Schools sent trucks to the academy to pick up items purchased with taxpayer money.

The school year is less than four weeks away.

In a letter emailed to parents and faculty, board treasurer Bob Morrison wrote:

July 25, 2012

Dear Parents of A. T. Jones M.S.T. Academy Scholars:

First, thank you for your wonderful support as we conclude our first two years of
operations.

Mrs. Kearse outlined to you in a letter yesterday the academic results of this past school
year. I know the Academy Board is collectively proud of the efforts by you, our scholars,
teachers, staff and our Principal.

Second, there has been a collective effort to address and attack the financial shortfall
experienced by the Academy in mid- March when the loss of approximately 30+ students
from October - February translated to a loss of $11,000 per payment period in revenue
from the District, or an amount in excess of $60,000. Our Board, in concert with your
efforts, were able to make positive steps in reduction of that shortfall. The good news is
that we will be able to satisfy all outstanding obligations for the 2012 school year.

Finally, our Board has been clear - unless we were in a position to assure all parents, staff
and teachers of financial stability, we would not proceed with a new year. We are not able
at this time to insure the future financial stability of the Academy for the upcoming school
year. As a result, we cannot and will not proceed with a new school year for the Academy in
which we cannot insure a continued positive academic experience and satisfaction of future
business related obligations.

The Academy will work with the District to make sure you receive proper communication
regarding records access and copies. Thanks again for your support and your contribution
to the progress of the Academy's scholars and our joint vision.

Regards,

Bob Morrison
for the A. T. Jones Math, Science and Technology Academy Board of Directors

"This bites," said Hank Kruining, who is now on the hunt for a new school.

At a board meeting last Thursday, parents accused board members of financial mismanagement that drove the school into more than $100,000 worth of debt.

"It all comes down to not knowing how to balance a checkbook," said parent Dino Scanio.

Parents asked where all the school's money went only to be told all their questions would be addressed in an email sent out Monday. No email was ever sent.

Teachers are also owed money after money was deducted from their paychecks for health insurance even though the board terminated their insurance without telling them.

Teacher Monnie So told ABC Action News Tuesday night the school owes her $623 dollars for the money she thought was going toward coverage. That number does not factor in the money she has spent out-of-pocket to pay for doctor visits and medication.

Almost all of the faculty resigned or quit after learning the school was in financial trouble. Others, who were on a family plan for insurance had no choice but to go in search of other jobs.

Bob Morrison toward teachers at the board meeting their money was in the bank and he would cut them checks.  He never did.

Morrison later told teachers he used their money to pay for other bills but did not provide documentation.

Morrison pinned the financial deficit on parents who failed to pay for after school care and lunches--leaving the board to foot the bill.

In the recently released letter, Morrison attributes the loss of funds to the loss of 30+ students which he claims resulted in a loss of $60,000.

"It is unfortunate," said Linda Cobbe, Hillsborough County school district spokesperson.

Cobbe said the school's principal violated state laws last year when more than 30 children were enrolled who were too young.  The school board collected money the state sent to cover schooling for each child.  The state found out and ordered the school to give back $60,000 dollars.  All of the underage kids were also taken out of school until.

ABC Action News has tried repeatedly to speak with Morrison and he has not returned our calls or emails.

"He doesn't want anyone to get in touch with him," So added.

Cobbe said district leaders will send out an automated phone message Thursday alerting all parents of the closure.  Help will be available to parents who want to place their children in public schools, she added.

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