Charter school officials anticipate budget cuts
Arizona's charter schools are public schools and as such receive money from the state to operate. Unlike school districts, which have several schools, charter schools operate independently, with each administrator responsible for their individual school budget.
Like school districts, charter schools receive money from the state based on average daily membership and use this money for maintenance and operation. Unlike district schools where enrollment is declining, enrollment at charter schools is either remaining stable or increasing.
Despite that, charter schools are anticipating a cut in school funding similar to district schools - anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent.
Two local charter schools have expansion plans. Skyview Charter School, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, will add a new classroom to its Prescott campus.
Park View Middle School in Prescott Valley, with students in the sixth through eighth grades, plans to break ground on a new high school in April. Officials plan to have the school ready for the 2011-12 school year. (See related story.)
Charter schools do not receive state money for transportation, meal service or soft capital.
Skyview Charter School
According to Skyview administrator Scott McCreery, charter schools receive about $1,400 less per student than school districts.
Additionally, charter schools cannot bond, they must follow the same state-required financial procedures as district schools and are subject to yearly audits. Charter schools also must accept, if they have room, any student who wants to attend, including special education students.
Skyview has an annual budget of about $1 million.
A 10 percent cut would require Skyview to reduce its budget between $90,000 and $100,000. If that happens, McCreery said school officials would have to look at eliminating aide positions and continuing a salary freeze.
Skyview does not plan any reduction in force this year.
Skyview Governing Board President Wayne Regina thinks the biggest challenge for charter and district schools is "not knowing what the Legislature and governor will do with the budget this year and next year. The Legislature and governor seem intent on cutting vital government services, including education, regardless of the ramifications of such cuts."
According to Regina, the state has not increased state funding to meet the increased costs of utilities and health insurance.
Kestrel High School
Sue Foglia, Kestrel High School principal, said that charter schools, like district schools, will face an increased cost in reporting students to the state when the Arizona Department of Education changes its reporting program. The first-year cost is $6 per student, with the cost increasing to $12 per student after that.
Kestral's annual budget is about $750,000. Unlike other schools, Kestrel does not participate in the Arizona State Retirement System. Foglia said participation in ASRS is an "all or nothing" process and the school cannot afford to join.
Another difference between charters and districts, Foglia noted, is that charter school funding is based on current student enrollment, while district funding is based on the previous year's student counts.
Foglia anticipates an increase in health insurance costs, but will not know the exact amount until this summer.
Foglia said Kestrel may have to cut two employees depending on state cuts.
Franklin Phonetic Primary School
Franklin Phonetic School in Prescott Valley is one of the charter schools that has added students this year.
In fact, co-founder and principal Cindy Franklin said the school has a waiting list.
If the school is forced to make cuts, Franklin indicated she would not know where to do so. "The arts are not subordinate to other subjects. If we had to cut music and art, I would rather close our doors," she said.
"Charter schools," she said, "are a bit like independent contractors."
While each charter school is autonomous, they also are accountable to the state for average or above average achievement.
Franklin Phonetic's budget is about $2.5 million, including grants.
It does not provide health insurance for its employees, but vice principal David Goode said the school does provide a health insurance stipend to its employees.
Franklin Phonetic officials think they could survive a 2 percent cut, but with a 10 percent cut - $250,000 - they don't think they could survive.
Franklin said if the state cuts education financing, the Legislature also should cut the number of required school days "at least to where it was in 2000."
In addition, she said that students are attending school during the hottest part of the year, which increases utility costs, and noted that the long school year does not give teachers the time to go to college during the summer and get additional certification.
Goode indicated that while Franklin's enrollment increased this year by 20-25 students, that also means increased expenses.
Superintendent and co-founder Tom Franklin stated that as a public school Franklin receives state financing, but it does not receive any local property tax money. Franklin, like other charters, must pay for its buildings.
As co-founders of the school, Tom and Cindy Franklin also serve as the school's governing board. They indicate they will try not to make any employee cuts, but are concerned.
Park View Middle School
Park View Middle School is a member of Westwind Community Schools.
Superintendent Debra Slagle reported that the organization has budgeted for expansion. This is possible, the superintendent said, because as part of Westwind, the school can take advantage of economy of scale. Park View shares financial, personnel and oversight costs with other charter schools in
Park View operates with a $1 million budget.
Slagle said the school would react to any state cuts in the same way a family would.
"If the family's breadwinner has a cut in pay, the family turns off the lights and eats less," Slagle said.
Slagle noted that she has not yet addressed "the worst case scenario" that would have the state cutting 10 percent of Park View's budget, "but we will be fine. Westwind is very solid. Also, our enrollment is holding steady."
Slagle said an important part for school budgets parents getting involved and contacting their legislators.
"Tell them you don't want cuts to K-12 education. It is not good for the state, for education or for students," Slagle stated.
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