Tampa bay times wins pulitzer prizes in local and investigative reporting wholesale electricity prices by state

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Reporters Cara Fitzpatrick, 35, Lisa Gartner, 28, and Michael LaForgia, 32, won the Pulitzer award for local reporting. Combining data and powerful narrative accounts, the reporters detailed how the Pinellas County School Board’s 2007 decision to abandon integration followed by years of neglect turned five once-average St. Petersburg schools into some of the worst in the state of Florida.

Times reporters Leonora LaPeter Anton, 51, and Anthony Cormier, 37, won the award for investigative reporting after a year-long examination of Florida’s six primary mental health hospitals. The reporting, as part of a joint project with Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Michael Braga, uncovered a pattern of neglect and $100 million in budget cuts that created warehouses of violence where deaths and physical attacks spiked.

Reporters, editors and their families gathered in the St. Petersburg newsroom to watch a live video stream of the 3 p.m. Monday announcement. They were joined by Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams, who was interviewing Fitzpatrick, Gartner, LaForgia and Times photographer Dirk Shadd for an upcoming documentary on inequality in education.

Funding for the schools was erratic and unfocused while teacher turnover became a chronic problem. In some cases, children cycled through a dozen instructors in a single year. In 2014, more than half of the teachers in these schools asked for a transfer out.

At one of the schools, a second-grader threatened to kill and rape two girls while brandishing a kitchen knife he carried to school in his backpack. At another, a 9-year-old hit a pair of kindergartners in the head with a souvenir baseball bat.

Florida lawmakers earmarked nearly $400,000 for a new reading assistance pilot program this year. Pinellas County, meanwhile, has proposed a series of reforms including offering raises of up to $25,000 for teachers at the schools and extending the school day by one hour.

Finalists for the award included work from the New York Times, Miami Herald and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. "Failure Factories" also won the 2015 George Polk Award for education reporting and the 2015 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism, among other honors.

The stories by LaPeter Anton, Cormier and Braga chronicled how state budget cuts left mental hospitals unable to provide even the most basic of services to the 5,000 people who each year pass through one of Florida’s six primary mental hospitals.

Staffing shortages became so acute that violent patients wandered the halls unsupervised and employees were left alone to oversee 15 or more mentally ill men, the reporting showed. At least three people died because hospital workers took too long to call 911, and violent and other dangerous incidents increased 45 percent since 2008. In one case, a patient needed nothing more than a wad of paper to break out of his locked room and stab his neighbor 10 times, the reporting showed.

The projects were assisted by a number of Times journalists, including Shadd, the photographer, news designer Jennifer Wright, director of data Adam Playford, data reporter Nathaniel Lash, computer-assisted reporting specialist Connie Humburg, news researchers Caryn Baird and Natalie Watson, digital designer Martin Frobisher, staff photographer John Pendygraft and former Times digital designer Alexis N. Sanchez.