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    Plato Academy charters move child care, camp services to YMCA

    By Sonia A. Rao,

    Cars approach the Plato Academy campus in Trinity in 2019. Plato's board on Tuesday voted to switch pre-K, after school and summer camp services from Superior Schools to the YMCA amid a spate of lawsuits. [ THOMAS TOBIN | Google Maps ]

    Educator Terri Kistler-Calderon broke into tears as she spoke during the public comment section of a Tuesday Plato Academy Charter Schools board meeting.

    She is an early learning and extended care director for Superior Schools, an organization that provides pre-K, after school and summer camp opportunities for Plato Academy’s nine campuses across Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

    The Plato board voted Tuesday to replace Superior’s services with the YMCA at all nine of its campuses, although the move won’t be finalized until there is a secondary board vote at another meeting.

    Kistler-Calderon works at Plato’s Clearwater campus and was at the meeting to protest the YMCA move. She is one of many impacted in this latest chapter of a years-long legal battle between one of Tampa Bays’ largest charter school systems — which has about 4,000 students — and its service provider.

    In March, Plato accused Superior of violating state school safety rules and mandated that Superior vacate its campuses by June 7. Superior responded with three lawsuits in May alleging that Plato is violating its exclusive provider agreements, as well as leases on its Clearwater and Pinellas Park campuses. Superior recently sold those two properties to Plato on the condition that Superior would be a tenant offering early learning programs.

    As of now, Superior is still operating summer camps on four Plato campuses, Superior CEO Jenny Tsantilas said in an interview. But about 100 Superior employees could be affected if things continue to go south.

    “The panic of what may come next is very disheartening,” Kistler-Calderon said at the meeting.

    Plato has fully vetted the YMCA’s safety processes/procedures, and the YMCA might charge parents less for its services, per the board’s meeting agenda.

    Around 16 speakers at the meeting, most of whom were employees at Superior, objected. They stated that Superior employees had complied with Plato’s safety requirements, and that they are concerned about previous safety violations from the YMCA.

    “We are licensed programs,” Tsantilas said. “So we are licensed in that space. We are not leaving from that space. We have (had) this business for 20 years. It’s great that they don’t want to do business with us anymore. But that’s not a choice that they can make.”

    Plato’s four board members declined to comment.

    Plato filed three new lawsuits on May 30 aiming to evict the company from Plato’s nine campuses, including the three — St. Petersburg, Trinity and Tarpon Springs — which Superior still owns and leases to Plato. The executive provider agreements between the two parties are not set to expire until 2027. However, the lawsuits allege that Superior has “committed numerous incurable breaches” of the exclusive provider agreement, giving Plato the means to terminate them early.

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