Charter school seeks more students

Parents now confident school will continue thanks to increased funds

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2004

The nearly 60 children in the Juneau Community Charter School piled into a classroom Wednesday, sat on the carpeted floor and sang of dreams of harmony.

They will be among the performers at the school's annual fund-raising arts gala on Friday, April 9. Only a few months ago, parents who run the 7-year-old school weren't so sure it would even be around next year.

The Juneau School District, facing a budget deficit of $2.1 million, proposed reducing the school's budget by $34,000. Parents said the reduction would force the school, which faces rising costs, to drop the arts programs that provides its character.

In recent years, the school's budget usually included about $260,000 from the district, about $25,000 that parents raised each year, and some funds remaining from previous years.

Parents now feel confident the school will operate next year, thanks to the likelihood of increased state funding for schools and their own efforts to recruit more students, said Catherine Reardon, a parent on the Academic Policy Committee.

Charter schools are public schools, but usually are run by parents who set the curriculum. The school now has 58 students in grades kindergarten through six, Reardon said. There are three teachers in mixed-grade classrooms.

Parents hope to increase the school's enrollment for next school year to a maximum of 66.

"I don't think it will be a big task because we have a very powerful and positive school to offer to parents," Reardon said. "So the challenge is making sure all of the families in Juneau know the option is available to them."

The teachers agreed with the need to raise enrollment, although the difference between 20 and 22 students in a classroom is great, said Linda Torgerson, who teaches the kindergartners and first-graders.

The school individualizes its instruction, "so it's a huge thing that we decided we're willing to take 22 because we can't afford to have 20," Torgerson said.

The enrollment period runs until 3:30 p.m. on April 30. Applications are available at the school at 430 Fourth St. The school can be reached at 586-2526.

There are no entrance examinations or qualifications. But if there are more applicants than openings at a grade level, the school runs a lottery. The lottery is random except that weight is given to a diverse student body and a balance of the sexes, and to accepting siblings of enrolled children.

About one in five of the school's students is Native, close to the district's average of 22 percent, and a few others are Asian or Hispanic.

The school is holding a kindergarten open house at 4 p.m. April 14; an all-school visitation day from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3:30 p.m. April 15; and an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. April 27.

The school requires parents to spend five hours a month in the classroom and also to help with some school task such as creating the newsletter. If parents can't take off time during the day, they can do janitorial work in the evenings, Reardon said. The school has many single parents, she added.

There is no school bus service. Some parents participate in car pools.

In the long term, the school's parents hope the Legislature will change the way small charter schools are funded, said Ernie Mueller, a grandparent active at the school.

Charter schools with fewer than 150 students are lumped in with the largest schools in their district in calculating part of the state funding formula. It results in less funding per student in the charter school than in Juneau's other elementary schools.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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