Founder of failed school now wants to open charter
TAMPA - The founder of a private school in Lutz who moved to Wisconsin owing millions to creditors has another plan for a new school in Hillsborough County. This time, Wendy Alexander wants to use $1.6 million a year in taxpayer money to operate a public charter school called the Academy for Accelerated Learning, serving students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Parents who had children enrolled at Alexander's bankrupt Hand In Hand Academy say they can't believe it. "No, never," said Marc Medeiros. "I mean, that just shows what disregard she has for what she's done and she really believes she can get away with it."Medeiros showed News Channel 8 tuition checks totaling more than $1,300 written to Hand in Hand before it shut down last month, four weeks into the new school year. Medeiros said he has been unable to reach Alexander about a refund. Alexander and Hand in Hand ran up $3.3 million in debts and the school was in foreclosure when it closed Sept. 16. Four months earlier, Alexander accepted a job in Wisconsin as principal of Fairview Elementary, a public charter school in Milwaukee, where she oversees a budget of more than $6 million. On Oct. 14, four days after News Channel 8 first reported the financial troubles at Hand In Hand, the Milwaukee school superintendent suspended Alexander with pay from her $78,000-a-year principal's position while the district investigates. When a Milwaukee reporter questioned Alexander about parental concerns back in Florida, she replied, "You guys are unbelievable." Now it's the parents who are in disbelief. On Aug. 1, six weeks before Hand In Hand closed, and after she accepted the job in Milwaukee, Alexander applied to open a new charter school through the Hillsborough school district. "Essentially, she left a lot of children and parents out in the cold," said Michael Hanke. He said the surprise closure of Hand in Hand cost him $1,100 in prepaid tuition. "I don't think it's fair to the taxpayers of Hillsborough County to give her another chance to do the same thing," Hanke said. Alexander did not respond to email messages from News Channel 8 and a cell phone she used has been disconnected. Alexander's charter school application is now under review by the Hillsborough school district's charter review committee, said district spokesman Stephen Hegarty. Any financial problems involving Alexander's private school would be taken into consideration, Hegarty said. The committee will forward Alexander's proposal with a recommendation to Hillsborough School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Elia will submit her own recommendation to the Hillsborough School Board for a yes or no vote at a meeting in December. "I hope the Hillsborough School Board does the right thing and denies her application," Hanke said.
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