After a history of academic and athletic failures — including a football scandal that prompted Florida’s largest-ever fine against a high school — Miramar’s Parkway Academy has been forced to close.
Teachers at the 517-student charter school were aware the end was coming, but what they hadn’t expected was this: As the doors shut, Parkway stiffed its teachers of their last month’s pay.
“We don’t deserve this,” said former Parkway teacher Deon Stupart. Stupart, a single mother of two daughters, said she’s now past due on both her rent and her utilities.
Said fellow Parkway teacher Lisette Szeto: “Some teachers missed their mortgages. One teacher has cancer and he hasn’t been doing his chemo treatments ... they messed with 50 people’s lives.”
The Broward school district moved to close Parkway in March, citing eight consecutive years of subpar academic performance. The district also accused Parkway of using uncertified teachers in some of its classes.
A court battle followed, with Parkway hoping to get permission from an administrative law judge to remain open. Instead, the judge sided with the school district earlier this month.
The cost of attorneys fees likely added to the financial strain at Parkway, a school that operated at a $153,000 deficit during the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to state records.
A still-pending athletics fine against the school was another burden. In 2010, the Florida High School Athletic Association levied a record $260,800 fine against Parkway for widespread violations on its football team, which was then coached by former Miami Dolphins linebacker Anthony Harris.
The violations included the team playing students who were ineligible or who attended other schools, steering students to a separate unapproved “distance learning” school to boost their grades, and recruiting students from other schools.
FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing called Parkway’s actions a “bizarre” attempt to promote the school through athletics, even if it meant flagrant cheating. Several Parkway football players were known to always wear their helmets — even during pregame ceremonies and halftime — in an apparent effort to shield their true identity.
“Just blatant lies about who these kids were, and their names,” Dearing said of the scandal. “It was just a total disregard for any type of rule or code of ethics.”
By appealing the fine, Parkway succeeded in having it reduced to $117,900. But even that reduced amount proved difficult to pay off, and at the time of its closure Parkway still owed $29,474.
“We don’t expect to get it,” Dearing said. “We’ve written it off as a non-collectible fine.”
Teachers, meanwhile, were notified in a July 13 letter from Parkway that their pay was being suspended. In that letter, Parkway Executive Director Clarissa Wright blamed the Broward school district for interrupting the school’s funding. But Parkway had received the full amount of state funding that was supposed to pay teachers for the 2011-12 school year, the school district said.
Though teachers typically work 10 months out of the year, their pay is often spread over 12 months. At Parkway, teachers say they were forced to take their pay over 12 months — a 10-month option was not allowed — and so now they are waiting to be paid for work they performed months ago.