Windsor Prep parents take action to save charter school

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) - Parents of students at the Windsor Preparatory Academy in St. Petersburg began what amounts to a citizen revolt Thursday night over the management of their financially failing charter school.

RELATED: Windsor Prep faces scrutiny over $300K consulting fees, district demands changes

They elected two parents, Chris Wenzel and Megan Smith, to serve on the beleaguered board.

One parent suggested it was time for Windsor's board chairman Robert Pergolizzi to go. "If you cannot be present and active as the chairman of the board, I ask that you step down," Mary Ann Knispel said.

The crowd that packed Windsor Prep's school cafeteria responded with thunderous applause.

Windsor Prep is under intense pressure to shape up or possibly lose its charter to operate. Pinellas County Schools says the school is in "deteriorating financial condition" and cites a million dollar-deficit as one example of that.

The school's for-profit management company, Newpoint Education Partners, suddenly quit last week amid the turmoil after announcing it had been acquired by a nonprofit organization called Alliance Education Services. Alliance said Thursday it is only in the "conceptual stage" of taking over Newpoint.

Newpoint claims it loaned Windsor more than $800,000 in a series of promissory notes to keep afloat. But 8 On Your Side discovered last week no one can come up with any executed loan documents to prove the loans exists. That became a point of contention Thursday night with some parents questioning how that could happen.

Pergolizzi insisted he can't find any executed loan documents and can't recall if he's ever been approved about such loans as the school's board chairman. 8 On Your Side asked Pergolizzi how he could sign off on an audited financial report detailing the loans if he didn't know if they existed.

"I don't know. I have no answer on that," Pergolizzi said.

Pergolizzi insisted he is eager to move forward to save the school. He's promoting Alliance as Windsor's savior. But even the new school management company has some troubling baggage as we found out last week in our 8 On Your Side investigation.

RELATED: Pinellas charter school manager has troubled financial history across Florida

The company's chief operating officer, Justin Matthews, was chairman of the Imagine Charter School in St. Petersburg that failed miserably. The Alliance website also listed five charter schools as "our schools" on its website.

But we discovered one of those schools doesn't yet exist and two others, including Lutz Preparatory School, deny any connection to Alliance.

After learning of that claim, Lutz Prep hired an attorney to write a strongly worded letter warning Matthews to stop saying it is a client.

"Alliance Education Services, Incorporated (AES) falsely, and without authorization, listed Lutz as a client of AES," attorney Shawn Arnold wrote. "Lutz certainly did not consent to a material misrepresentation of having a relationship with AES."

When asked about that letter Thursday night, Matthews insisted that Lutz Prep is indeed a client, no matter what the attorney for that school says. "I can tell you what we did. We did facilities work on a consulting basis," Mathews said.

Arnold threatened to sue AES because of the bad publicity it brings to Lutz Prep.

Windsor Prep has to submit a "corrective action plan" to the Pinellas district by April 5. Matthews said Alliance is volunteering to help draft that plan at no cost to Windsor with the hope of becoming the school's next manager.


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