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ARIZONA: Scottsdale district floats idea of converting to charter schools

schoolThe Scottsdale Unified School District is grappling with a $4 million budget gap for 2014-15 and will face deeper cuts next year if voters again reject its override this fall.

At a budget session last week, Scottsdale officials briefly discussed converting some schools to district-run charters as a way to capture more funding.

Other districts, including Paradise Valley and Cave Creek, recently converted some of their campuses to charters, but Scottsdale Superintendent David Peterson has previously expressed wariness about that idea. He cited concerns that the Legislature would reverse districts’ abilities to switch to charters for funding purposes.

Last year, a bill was introduced to put a one-year moratorium on district-school conversions, but the bill didn’t go anywhere and no similar bills were introduced this year.

Charter schools get about $1,500 more per student than district schools, to make up for the fact that they cannot ask voters for bonds or overrides, according to Dan O’Brien, chief financial officer for Scottsdale.

Switching all but three of the 30 Scottsdale schools to charters would bring more than $20 million to the district, he said.

That would more than make up for the $16 million funding loss that will occur if the override fails again this fall and expires for 2014-15.

Essentially, that is what happened in Cave Creek. That district’s voters rejected an override, but by switching four of the five elementary schools to charters in 2012, the additional per-pupil funding made up for the expiration of the override revenue of more than $3 million.

“We’re not sure it will be a recommendation, but it’s an option and we want to make sure we talk about all the options,” O’Brien said.

Most charters are overseen by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, but universities, community colleges and public-school districts also can be sponsors. Only a handful of districts had charters, mostly operated as alternative schools for at-risk students, before Vail Unified School District converted two elementary schools in 2008.

State law requires districts to offer non-charter options at every grade level, so no district can offer 100 percent charter schools.

Also, in the first year after conversion, districts only receive the extra money per pupil for students who are new to the district — mostly kindergartners and a handful at the upper grades. The following year, full funding kicks in.

This year, Paradise Valley switched a third of its elementary schools to charters, anticipating a revenue increase of about $7 million when full funding kicks in next year.

Other than the funding mechanism, little changes at district-run charter schools. Students can still ride the bus and buy lunch. Districts own the buildings so they can still ask voters for bonds to renovate and repair them. They can ask voters for overrides only for non-charter schools.

One change is that districts cannot ask the State Facilities Board for money to construct or repair charter buildings. In recent years, that agency has received little funding from the state that it could pass along.

O’Brien said that one concern of administrators is that for Scottsdale, because the district receives no equalization money from the state, the extra per-pupil money would come from local taxpayers, and would increase the tax rate. The assessed property values are too high in Scottsdale for the district to qualify for state equalization money.

O’Brien presented a budget scenario to the governing board that showed a higher tax rate for district-run charters than if the override passed.

“It’s something we can think about doing, but it’s increasing people’s tax rates, which is a concern,” he said.

School-closure vote

The Scottsdale Unified School District governing board will vote Tuesday, March 18, on whether to close Tonalea Elementary School and relocate all its students to the Oak campus.

The board also is scheduled to vote on closing the main district office, called the Education Center, but a relocation site for the employees has not been determined yet.

The Tonalea campus would be shut down. The Education Center would be shut and possibly sold, if voters approve this fall.

The meeting is at 5 p.m. at the Education Center, 3811 N. 44th St., Phoenix.

Source: AZ Central – by Mary Beth Faller

View more articles on Arizona charter schools

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2014 by in Arizona, Charter Schools, States.

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