Opinions 

7/1/2003

Charters a drain on St. Vrain?

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The St. Vrain Valley School District is losing money funding its two charter schools, according to recent budget data.

Although final figures aren’t yet available for the 2002-03 school year, the district’s May financial statement indicates that the district budgeted $278,298 to operate Twin Peaks Charter Academy and Ute Creek Secondary Academy but actually spent $322,982, with the bulk of the deficit coming from Ute Creek, the district’s chief financial officer said.

In the 2001-02 school year, the St. Vrain district lost $16,334 operating the two schools, although most of the shortfall is due to operations at Ute Creek Secondary Academy, the district says.

Under the Colorado Charter Schools Act of 1993, a charter school must be “economically sound for both the charter school and the school district.”

That means neither the school district that operates the charters nor the charters themselves should face budget shortfalls.

District Chief Financial Officer Mark Pillmore said he does not know what the repercussions will be for not meeting that requirement.

Calls to the state Department of Education were not returned.

State regulations call for school districts to provide funding for charter schools equal to at least 95 percent of the per-pupil funding the district receives from the state. Districts can retain up to 5 percent of the charter school’s per-pupil revenue to cover administrative costs.

If the district does not spend that 5 percent on the school, the school receives the remainder at the end of the budget year.

In 2001-02, the district gave the two schools $3.38 million. It budgeted $3.43 million for Twin Peaks and Ute Creek for 2002-03.

According to Pillmore, the main culprit for the deficit is the lack of a special education program at Ute Creek.

He said Twin Peaks offers its own special education programs, and as a result those costs are built into its own budget.

Ute Creek, however, relies on districtwide services for its program.

Pillmore said he expects Ute Creek to eventually begin offering more of its own special education services, meaning the district’s costs will decrease.

In fact, Twin Peaks probably will get money back from the district this year because, Pillmore said, “there is no charge-back for them.”

School board member Sandi Searls said last Wednesday that the charter school shortfall was unacceptable and the district needed to figure out a way to reduce the deficit in the next 90 days.

Last week, the board worked with Ute Creek administrators to make sure they were incorporating state-required reserves in the charter’s budget.

Ute Creek found itself in a major financial pickle in 2001 when it drastically overspent its budget and the St. Vrain Valley Board of Education voted to give the school a $230,000 bailout.

A review showed that construction costs and capital shortfalls were the root cause of the school’s monetary problems. It also showed that the school’s founders should have been aware of the problem long before they asked the district for a bailout.

Pillmore said he could not comment on whether the district still has concerns about Ute Creek’s financial mismanagement.

The school board, at a special meeting Monday evening, voted to approve Ute Creek’s new contract and budget. The school originally estimated total expenditures for the 2003-04 school year to be $1.5 million. The board approved $1.34 million.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.

 

 
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