ZEPHYRHILLS — A charter school for autistic children that was in danger of closing is set to re-emerge in the fall in a new location and as a satellite campus of a Lakeland-based private school.
“Everything is rolling in the right direction,” said Chris Dester, a parent who spearheaded the effort to keep the Florida Autism Center for Excellence, or FACE Pasco, afloat.
In its new incarnation, FACE Pasco will be called The Monarch School — Zephyrhills. Amy Arnold, CEO of The Monarch School in Lakeland, agreed to take on the mission of expanding her operation into Pasco after meeting with parents and working out an agreement to lease space from First Assembly of God on State Road 54 in Zephyrhills.
“First Assembly has been very excited about having us and we are excited about being there,” Arnold said.
In what was essentially a formality, the Pasco County School Board voted last week to terminate its five-year contract with the charter school. The school’s governing board, which also oversees a FACE charter school in Tampa, had already voted to dissolve the charter to clear the way for a private-school takeover.
FACE Pasco was in its first year of existence when an Orlando-based management company that operated the school announced it was pulling out because of a financial loss caused at least in part by low enrollment.
Parents rallied around the school and began reviewing proposals from a handful of private schools that expressed interest in rescuing it. The parents eventually focused on two potential suitors — Monarch and Hope Youth Ranch in Hudson.
Dester said Hope Youth Ranch was actually the first choice, with Monarch a close second.
“We really couldn’t lose either way,” he said.
Hope Youth Ranch backed out, though, over some rental issues involved in leasing space from Agape Baptist Church, the school’s location this past year,
Monarch then worked out an agreement with the parents, though eventually it decided to find a new location for the school, resulting in the planned move to First Assembly of God, which has several classrooms in the back of the church where a daycare center used to operate, Dester said.
About 20 children were enrolled in FACE Pasco, and Arnold said 12 of them will continue with the school. Efforts to recruit more are underway, and she has meetings with several interested parents this week, she said. Arnold said she anticipates having about 20 to 25 students to begin.
The school also plans an open house July 19 that will feature pony rides and other activities.
Arnold is no stranger to Pasco. She worked nearly five years at Academy at the Farm, a charter school near Dade City, before launching her private school in Lakeland.
Monarch, which has 113 students, had its own financial troubles lately when it briefly was unable to meet payroll for teachers at the end of the school year.
Arnold said she used her own money and took out a loan to cover the payroll.
Arnold said the financial shortfall was caused by unexpected expenses the school faced. A new fire inspector required the school to install a $25,000 monitoring system and the school also lost a portion of its McKay Scholarship funding when students took online classes with Florida Virtual School.
“We did have a rough year,” Arnold said. “I am not denying that. But I will tell you I do have a new financial adviser who we are working with on a plan to have a nest egg.”