A fresh start at Midtown Academy

Rene Y. Robinson-Flowers, Pinellas County School Board Member District 7

ST. PETERSBURG — This past Tuesday, July 26, a historic moment during my tenure as a school board member was achieved. In a 6 to 1 vote, Pinellas County Schools officially took over the operations formerly known as University Preparatory Academy as a public school. The Department of Education out of Tallahassee provided the district with its seal of approval and formal number to operate as a K-8 school.

Rene Flowers

Rene Flowers

During the discussion, there were a few noted questions of concern, which led to the voting outcome. Such questions are warranted, particularly when there are so many moving parts in such a short period of time. I want to take this moment to address those questions (and a few others) so that those individuals who read The Weekly Challenger — or have associates/friends/ family members who do — will not be left with the sole description written in the Tampa Bay Times.

The primary concern was that of the “proposed” purchase price of the facility after the one year rent free agreement between PCS and the landlord CA Tampa Bay 1701 10SLLC.  Under Article III Purchase Option, “The Purchase Option Price” is $7,578,404.00. The time frame by which to begin to express an interest in exercising this option is July 2017.

Having said that, the district sold the property for $1.1 million dollars to UPA. The building, which formerly occupied as Southside Fundamental School, had been closed for quite some time.  There was no central heat and air, there were no elevators, the building was not ADA compliant, the basketball courts and overhead coverings were not there, the roof was in total disrepair as well as other electrical and mechanical items.

Since the occupation of UPA and ownership of CA Tampa Bay, the Property Appraisers Office currently cites the following values:

• July 23, 2013, Commercial Add, $4,494,000.00

• Nov 6, 2014, Commercial Add, $9,830.00

• Dec 30, 2014, Roof, $7,462.00

• Apr 24, 2015,Roof, $2,951.00

• Current Property Value, $4,514,243.00

This description takes into account the garage, loading dock, basketball court and the asphalt, however it does not take into account the additional land that accompanies the property to the west of the building.

In addition, the district, as other governmental entities operating with taxpayer dollars, cannot spend more on a purchase (property) than the appraised value of the property. Said appraisals have not occurred as of yet. Appraisers must follow the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices, which among other things requires that they provide an unbiased opinion.

Those appraisals will be based on an inspection of the facility, highest and best use, comparable facilities of same/similar square footage and or size and current market value as well as any additional amenities. From that point, the parties have an opportunity to enter into negotiations based on the analysis of the appraisal.

The landlords have agreed to allow the district to operate rent free for the 2016-17 school year, with the understanding that the district would cover the property insurance. In light of the circumstances, this most certainly is an appropriate request.

My initial discussions with the superintendent since the beginning whispers of the closing of this charter school have been that the district should assume responsibility of this facility. While charter schools are an option and certainly a choice for parents and students, Pinellas County has been involved with several unfortunate opportunities that have left our children and families in a precarious position. This by no means is an indictment on those charters that operate with efficiency and transparency. To those schools-HATS OFF!

As for the naming of the school, thank you to my colleagues for expressing your support of the name “Midtown Academy.” The name exudes unification with excellence and denotes a description of hardship, inabilities, and failure.

Portia Slaughter, principal and other staff members are working vigorously to assure that work stations, technology, books, transportation, meals and the like are all in place and ready for the start of school, which is August 10.

After school services will be provided by “Master Kids Camp” founded by Shirley Proctor Puller and the City of St. Petersburg Recreation Department. This will allow for a continued enriching learning environment for the students.

It does not end here; we need and want your support. Mentoring and volunteer opportunities abound. I would like to enlist you as a new or returning recruit. Please go on line to pcsb.org or call 727-588-6000 and ask for Dr. Valerie Brimm. She or a member of her staff can assist you with the application process.

I am extremely grateful for all of the support given to the students, families and staff of UPA, now Midtown Academy. This was a jolt that one cannot truly prepare for in advance. It is my hope that the community senses the sincerity in Pinellas County Schools to put students first.

As a member of the board, certainly not having the only vote nor the final say, I can affirm that my intentions have been and will be to maintain Midtown Academy as a fully functioning K-8 school in Pinellas County—owned and operated by Pinellas County Schools. Like First Lady Michelle Obama said, “When others go low, we go high”!

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