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4:44 AM Wed, Sept. 19th

HUSD charters 5 schools to boost funds

A combination of factors, including Arizona's No. 1 position as the state making the largest cuts to public education - 21.8 percent - led the Humboldt Unified School District Governing Board to approve the chartering of five schools at a May 15 special meeting.

The schools include Humboldt, Mountain View, Coyote Springs and Lake Valley elementary schools and Glassford Hill Middle School.

HUSD Superintendent Paul Stanton laid out the financial history that set the stage for approving charter applications for the five schools: a combined loss of revenue of $10 million over the past five years. (See sidebar for explanation.)

Stanton said the district is reviewing its staffing levels as it looks at student needs. It is operating about as efficiently as possible, as verified by this year's performance audit by the Auditor General's Office, he said.

Converting schools to district-sponsored charter schools will increase HUSD's revenue. So will an M&O override, paid for by local taxpayers. Board members have been investigating both options.

At Tuesday's regular board meeting, members looked at survey results from Paul Ulan of Primary Consultants, which indicate about 55 percent of those surveyed would support a 10 percent override and about 46 percent would support a 15 percent override.

District-sponsored charter schools bring in an additional $1,400 per student by the second year. The first year, only new-to-the-district students receive the $1,400 allocation. New half-day kindergarten students generate $700 each.

"The purpose of chartering our schools is not purely financial," Stanton said. "It will allow us to enhance existing programs and create signature programs."

Chartering schools will not close the gap caused by the $10 million loss, he added. It will, however, allow schools to enhance the programs students have now and create innovative "magnet" or signature programs that would offer parents and students more choices.

Otherwise, hardly anything changes. All schools will continue to follow state standards and testing, and all requirements for teacher certification stay the same. District-sponsored charter schools are governed by the same board and follow all policies and procedures of the district. Teachers remain district employees with the same benefits. The district continues to provide transportation.

"The word 'charter' makes the hair stand up on the back of necks," said board President Rich Adler. "We've been thinking this through, doing our due diligence, and taking time to do it the right way."

He said a benefit would be the niche marketing that some local charter schools have, along with a governing board and superintendent to oversee operations.

The extra funds will benefit all schools, not just the designated charters. The district cannot charter Granville because the Arizona Schools Facilities Board fully funded the building of the school. It cannot charter Bradshaw Mountain High School because a district must offer at least one non-charter option at each grade level and the district has only one high school.

Drawbacks to chartering include the un-known future action of the state Legislature, which could change how it funds charter schools; the Schools Facilities Board won't count students at charter schools when a district needs a new school; charters do not receive soft capital money from the state (which hasn't allocated soft capital for the past four years to any Arizona school district); and if a charter wants to convert back to regular school designation, it must pay back all additional per student funds.

Six other districts in Arizona have created district-sponsored charter schools, and at least five more are considering chartering schools for the 2013-14 school year.