Charter school seeks more funds

School's governing board asks the district to change the way it funds program

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

The Juneau Community Charter School, founded by parents, may be an "adopted child" in the school district. But the Juneau School Board should treat it more like its "birth children" - the regular elementary schools, charter school parents say.

"We are part of the school district," parent Margie Hamburger told the School Board this week. "We don't want to be a private school. We belong to you."

The charter school's governing Academic Policy Committee has asked the School Board to change the way it funds the school so the small school will have more revenue.

The request comes as the district faces budget cuts for next school year and is negotiating new contracts with its three unions. Superintendent Peggy Cowan has recommended that the school's funding method not change.

Parents presented a budget of expenditures for next year of $330,709. The district's method of funding the school would produce $249,000 for 56 students, for example. The school's preferred method would generate $317,000.

The School Board is considering the annual renewal of the contract between the school and the Juneau School District. Charter schools are public schools that hold agreements with school districts on how they will be funded and operated. The schools typically are governed by parents and create their own curriculum.

Juneau's charter school, which in recent years has served 55 to 60 students in kindergarten to grade six, is completing its seventh year. It is housed in the Arcticorp building downtown.

Parents raise funds and volunteer in the school, including cleaning it. Spending down a state start-up grant has kept the school in the black, they said. When the district suggested cutting the charter school's budget next school year to the state-required minimum, it brought funding concerns to the forefront.

One part of the solution is simply to enroll more students. The district's suggested funding method and the parents' preferred method are both tied to the number of students.

The school has admitted 65 students for next year, up from its enrollment of 56 in October, parents said. The school expects that perhaps 61 or 62 students will enroll next year, said Catherine Reardon of the Academic Policy Committee.

Parents also want the Legislature to change the way it funds small charter schools. In calculating the part of the funding formula that accounts for economies of scale in schools, the state combines small charter schools with the largest school in their district. So instead of getting more per student, as they would for being a small school, they get less.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, said he will look into legislation to rectify that next year.

In the meantime, as a one-time boost, he pushed the Legislature to authorize a grant for six small charter schools. It gives the Juneau school $18,783, he said.

But charter school parents also are looking to the district to share more of the city funds it receives.

State law requires districts to give charter schools at least the funds their students generate in what is called "basic need." It refers to the state funding and the minimum of funding that cities must give schools.

But cities also can give additional funding equal to nearly a quarter of the whole basic need. Juneau usually does that. It's worth about $1,500 per student.

Right now, none of that extra city money goes to the charter school.

"Why, when you look at the other schools, do you say, 'We want the maximum we can get,' and when you look at the charter school you say, 'We only want the minimum,' " Hamburger asked the School Board.

The charter school is asking the School Board to give it about $750 more per student from the extra city funding.

The charter school also wants the district to change the way it calculates basic need.

Parents said the school deserves more of that funding even if the school is lumped in with Juneau-Douglas High School and the alternative high school in figuring its economies of scale.

But state education officials have said the district is calculating basic need according to the state's longstanding practices.

School Board member Bob Van Slyke also pointed out that part of the formula works in the school's favor.

The charter school receives more money per student to cover services such as special ed, vocational and gifted programs, although the district separately provides special ed services.

Reardon, a parent, said that was partly the reason the school is seeking only half of the per-student money from the city's extra funding.

The School Board is scheduled to consider the contract at its June 1 meeting.



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