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Thursday, Aug 16, 2018
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More opportunities created for Pinellas special education students

CLEARWATER — Hamilton Disston in Gulfport operates as any other school in Pinellas County. At the start of the day, the flag is raised, the lawn is freshly manicured and the hallways are shiny and clean.

But unlike other schools, this campus is taken care of by students in the school district’s extended transition program, and the skills they use to run the school will help them land jobs in the community.

The Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday approved a new partnership with the City of Gulfport that will create even more work opportunities for the 100 or so students at the newly repurposed Hamilton Disston. There are about 1,200 students in the school district’s exceptional student education programs, and the extended transition program helps 18-to 22-year-olds with developmental disabilities that have already graduated high school find work and develop life skills.

Now, those students will work in city buildings performing jobs that could involve anything from maintaining the grounds at city recreation centers to completing office work.

“Our goal is to provide them with independent living skills and work experiences that will help them find a job so they can live as independently as possible and be competitively employed,” said Cindy Bania-Carter, executive director of Exceptional Student Education. “The beauty of it is they’ll be working side by side with people that will become more like mentors to help the students build those life skills.”

The students who aren’t working in the community will work at Hamilton Disston, which was closed earlier this year to K-12 students in the exceptional student program, a move that saved about $1.8 million. The only school district employees at the school now are teachers and teacher assistants that are teaching students to manage the front office and reception desk, cafeteria and media center, as well as perform all grounds keeping and custodial duties. The students also learn how to put together resumes, Bania-Carter said.

The school district has a similar partnership with the city of St. Petersburg that has helped students find permanent employment doing everything from cooking and folding linens to creating and selling art at Loews Don CeSar Hotel, Postcard Inn, Goodwill, Macy’s and Creative Clay. Students can also audit classes at University of South Florida at St. Petersburg.

“We are pretty excited because the school is a state of the art concept, there aren’t any others that I know of that are run by the students, and now there are more places where the students can show off those skills and hopefully find a new career,” Bania-Carter said.

Also at Tuesday’s School Board meeting:

- School Board members adopted a tax rate and a $1.3 billion budget for the 2013-2014 school year. The district will have an operating fund of about $854 million and a capital fund, which pays for construction projects, of about $298 million. The operating budget includes about $38.3 million in additional revenue, of which $18.1 million is allocated to teacher salary increases, and the capital outlay fund contains about $2.9 million in additional revenue. The new tax rate is $8.06 per $1,000 of taxable value and would raise $471 million, about $2 million more than this year.

- School Board members approved an amendment to the policy against bullying and harassment to include cyberbullying.

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