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Siesta Key Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 10 years ago

Future charter schools may receive less district money

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Future Sarasota County charter schools may find themselves with less funding from the district because of Sarasota County School Board members’ concerns about tighter local budgets in the weak economy.

During their regular workshop Tuesday morning, the board members asked Superintendent Lori White and staff to delve into charter school funding practices in other counties and report back.

Beginning with the 2009 fiscal year, the district began distributing a portion of its capital millage funds to charter schools, Deputy CFO Al Weidner explained. That decision resulted from recognition that charter school students are also students of Sarasota County; that their parents are taxpayers; and that state funding “is inadequate to fund the total operation of a school,” according to material Weidner distributed to the board.

In a comparison to the 2012 fiscal year, Weidner noted charter schools will receive 3.38% of the district’s anticipated $60,529,966 in revenue from its 1.5 mill capital tax. Those funds can be used solely for facilities, including renovations and maintenance. Altogether, Weidner said, the charter schools will be getting 4.9% of the district’s capital funds in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Those schools also will get 11.26% of the anticipated $40,353,311 in revenue from the special 1 mill tax last approved by voters in 2010.

The total estimated enrollment for the district’s nine charter schools in the 2011-12 school year is 4,870, or 11.86% of the expected district total.

Board member Shirley Brown pointed out that in years past, when the district had to keep building new schools to accommodate the growing student population, charter schools were welcome. With the declining economy and enrollment, she said, “I think (charter schools are) hurting our bottom line.”
Board member Jane Goodwin said the district is expecting applications from five new charter schools this fall.

“I am concerned about … the intention of Imagine and others who are coming into our state,” Goodwin said. “It’s a matter of our survival as well as it is the freedom of our people to bring these different charter schools to our community.”

“It’s kind of supply and demand,” Chairman Frank Kovach said. “There still seems to be more demand (for charter schools) than supply … I don’t know how we can say enough’s enough.”

Brown and Goodwin both said they felt the board should consider revising its charter school funding policy.

However, board member Caroline Zucker said it would not be fair to change the funding formulas for the existing charter schools. If any changes were made, she said, they should affect only new charter schools.

Kovach warned against any written policy change and said the board had no way of knowing what new funding formulas may come from the Legislature; the board should not enact policy changes that could hamper its actions.

Board members agreed they should consult their legal counsel before proceeding with any changes in district allocations to charter schools.

Board to consider advertising policy

Before proceeding with any further corporate sponsorships or advertising partnerships, the Sarasota County School District needs a comprehensive policy, School Board members agreed during a workshop Aug. 16.

Superintendent Lori White said the district has a long history of working with business sponsors, especially at the school level. However, with other districts pursuing new revenue options, including advertising on websites, the board should decide how to proceed.

Tanice Knopp, who leads the PALS Partners in Education office for the district, explained she and her staff, in cooperation with the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, had decided recently the district needed “an efficient point of entry where community members could identify how to support the district.”

The group settled on an online business connection system as the solution.

About the same time, Achieva Credit Union had approached staff about how to support the district, Knopp said. Achieva representatives decided to sponsor the online business connection system.

Although the board was familiar with sponsorship opportunities such as naming buildings, the partnership with Achieva was a different way to gain revenue to support initiatives that lack funding currently, White said.

White emphasized the agreement with Achieva called only for a sponsorship acknowledgment on the district website and no advertising.

“But it’s important for us to understand where the board is on this before we pursue any additional, large opportunities that are out there,” she said.

“We need any type of funds that we can get in here to keep the system running,” board member Caroline Zucker said. “We’ve been cutting costs for a long time now.”

Board member Carol Todd suggested the board consult its attorney so it would not create any conflicts with sponsorship agreements already in effect with individual schools.

Nonetheless, Todd opposed a new policy. If members of the public see a corporate logo on the district’s website, that conveys district support for the company, she said.

“I think it’s a thin veil between sponsorship and advertising,” Todd said. “I think the commercialization of public education is deplorable.”

Zucker disagreed.

“The commercialization of public education is better than the elimination of public education,” she said.

Click here to view a graph of the percentage of students attending charter schools in Sarasota county.

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