Polk County close to choosing private company to run six failing schools

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Six failing schools in Polk County face uncertain futures. A new state law says if the schools don’t pull those grades up, it will step in.

The underperforming schools are Bartow Middle, Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Polytech Academy and Lake Marion Creek Middle. 

If the schools’ grades don’t turn around by June, the district has three choices – shut down the schools, turn them into charter schools or pay a private company to take over day-to-day operations until the schools get passing grades.

“I don’t think that’s a wise decision,” said one parent.

“It needs to happen,” another parent told WFLA.

If Polk County Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has it her way, a private company will be paid to come in and help.

“For the schools, it’s better flexibility. We will have our schools back versus us closing or moving them over to a charter school,” she said.

On Tuesday, Byrd recommended hiring the private company Educational Directions, which has worked with the district before.

The cost would be $62,500 for a needs assessment in the spring. Then the company would charge anywhere from $325,000 to $350,000 per school based on the needs assessment, for the first year. Subsequent years would cost $225,000 to $250,000 per school. District officials said the company has agreed to relinquish power back to the district once schools received passing grades.

Several School board members questioned where the money would come from. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd confirmed it would come out of the district’s budget.

“It’s frustrating,” she admitted. “I’d rather use that money on my teachers and my staff.”

School Board Member Billy Townsend refused to support any state plans.

“I’m voting against this. If the state wants to come close the schools, if the state wants to waste millions of dollars and take that money right out of kids’ hands, they’re going to do it themselves,” he said.

A public meeting is scheduled for the end of February, which is also when we could see a vote on the board’s decision.

However, grades will not be released until the end of the school year.

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