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6:27 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Achieve Academy officials debate council's role

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Parents of students in the Yavapai County Fair Association Achieve Academy are trying to work with the charter school's board of directors to improve educational opportunities.

In April, parents asked school officials to give them financial records and a copy of the original lease agreement with the fair association. At that time, parents expressed concern that the school was moving away from its purpose - an agricultural school.

Parents also suggested forming a committee to advise, research and make recommendations about the school's curriculum, budget and school improvement plans and programs.

The parents formed the Achieve Academy Site Council, which has met every other Tuesday evening for several months.

This past Tuesday, the site council talked about school finances and the council's role.

Council president Kelly Levin said the school board approved a budget based on 200 students. Currently, about 130 students are enrolled for the 2008-09 school year.

The school receives a little more than $6,300 per student, or about $819,000 total.

Levin said the governing board budgeted $636,626 for rent. She said this amounts to $4,897 per student for rent, leaving only about $1,500 per student, or 24 percent, for teachers, buses and supplies.

"I think we may be overstepping our boundaries regarding the budget per what the (school) attorney said," member Jim Pendergast said.

Principal John Nixon said when he first researched site councils he looked through the school charter and the Arizona State School Board Policy Manual. He then looked at the guidelines for traditional schools. "I think it may be time for me to apologize. I should have run the site council through the attorney before it was brought to the parents," Nixon said.

Nixon said that according to the school attorney, the biggest mistake of a site council is going outside the charter regarding what it can and cannot do.

Nixon said the charter allows for the development of a 5- to 9- member Parent Advisory Committee consisting of parents and community members.

According to the charter, the focus of the PAC should be fundraising, volunteering, suggestions to encourage school attendance and promotions/marketing. The charter would more resemble a PTA than a traditional site council.

That did not sit well with the parents at Tuesday's meeting. Many said they do not want to be limited to "bake sales." They want to be involved, to know where the money is going, how much of state money actually goes for student education and how much goes for rent, insurance and occupancy costs.

Levin also went through the charter. She pointed out several places where parent involvement is encouraged.

Levin said the charter indicates the PAC would facilitate a variety of processes at the school, modeled after the Johns Hopkins Community Partnership Schools Network model.

Levin said a key component of the Johns Hopkins model is the inclusion of families in school decisions, and the development of parent leaders and representatives.

"If we are following the Johns Hopkins model, why are we in this shape?" Levin asked.

Member Brenda Pendergast said the concern of the site council is "about money going to students. It is not going there and we want it to go there now!"

The parents said it all comes back to getting the documents they have requested, including the lease agreement.

Nixon said that as a charter school Achieve Academy needs a sponsor. He said the YCFA has the right to set the amount of the rent.

Nixon added that the school board "will not recognize any function of this committee beyond what the attorney has indicated."

Contact the reporter at prhoden@prescottaz.com