1/11/2006

Everybody Wants to Start a Charter School: First Housing Developers, Next ... Starbucks?

A housing developer in Illinois is going to be the first in the state to start a charter school, according to the Tribune. I've heard of teachers starting charters, and the occasional university, but not a housing developer. There aren't many details, but take a look.

It may not be a first. According to this Miami Herald story from last year (Change drives charter school founder), a housing development guru who started a charter school in Florida. And according to this article from Pacific Research, "In several states, developers are including charter schools as part of housing developments."

Maybe the phone company or Starbucks will develop charter schools soon.

3 Comments:

Blogger Josh said...

There's a high-end development north of Dallas that has its own charter, too.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

These outfits are going to get a rude shock when they find that running charters isn't so easy!

The latest red flags are up for Envision Schools (Google them and duck from the splatters of the media gushfest), based here in San Francisco. Envision's first school is in adjacent suburban Marin County.

Now the Marin County press is reporting that their district, Novato, has put Envision on notice over financial issues. This is a red flag for my school district, where Envision runs two high schools, and any potential Envision clients -- this is your early warning system!

It's also worth noting that their high school had very LOW test scores compared to Novato's other two high schools, especially given its demographics, until it was put on notice and the test scores suddenly (conveniently) soared, only this year.

Article pasted below (sorry, I would have linked but this paper only keeps its links alive for a day or two):

Article Last Updated: 1/12/2006 07:05 AM
Charter school lashed over deficit
Jeff Mitchell
Marin Independent Journal

For the second time in less than a year, Novato school board members
grilled officials with the high-achieving Marin School of Arts and Technology over concerns about the charter school's shaky financial
condition.

During a tense three-hour session Tuesday, school board members
lambasted Daniel McLaughlin, Envision Schools president and chief
executive officer, for failing to keep the Novato charter school out
of a deficit and for failing to ensure that the school maintain a 3
percent reserve fund.

Several board members said they supported filing a legal "notice of
cure" with San Francisco-based Envision - the first step the district
would need to take in the process of revoking the school's charter and
shutting down the school.

Currently, MSAT serves 240 ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students.

"We understand that MSAT's deficit is of serious concern to Novato
Unified," McLaughlin told the board. "(However) we will be in the
black by next year. We are shooting for a 3 1/2-percent reserve."

Envision runs MSAT and two other charter school operations in the Bay
Area.

MSAT students have distinguished themselves academically, posting some
of the strongest test scores in the county recently.

Charter schools are publicly funded, independently operated
institutions whose curriculums have been tailored to the needs of
individual communities. Like other public schools, charter schools
receive the bulk of their funding based on attendance formulas
determined by the state. Parents and other private interests also
often donate funds in support of a given school.

At issue Tuesday was the charter school's projected deficit - expected
to exceed $300,000 by the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year - and the
absence of a reserve fund.

The 3 percent reserve fund requirement was part of the charter
school's original memorandum of understanding signed with the district
in December 2001. The school first opened its doors at the College of
Marin's Indian Valley campus in fall 2003.

But since its opening, the charter school has neither climbed out of
deficit mode nor established the required reserve fund.

"We have a (multiyear) pattern of noncompliance with our (memorandum
of understanding)," said board member Jennifer Treppa.

Last summer, the board took Envision and MSAT to task not only over
its concern about finances but also because of the way the school
deviated from district and state special education and student
discipline procedures - allegations Envision officials denied at the time.

The board voted to issue a "notice of cure" letter related to the
special education and student discipline dispute. Since that time,
district officials said the school has complied with the regulations.

At Tuesday's meeting, the board - concerned that an MSAT financial
failure could leave the district on the hook and disrupt the lives of
a large number of students - turned up the intensity of its public
comments.

It didn't help matters that, during the discussion, board members
Cindi Clinton and Leslie Schwarze remarked that a financial accounting
report provided by MSAT was filled with errors.

"These numbers don't add up," Clinton said. "I don't have any
confidence in these numbers. If our (chief financial officer)
presented a report like this, I would be talking to our superintendent
about (seeking) a replacement."

Board member Derek Knell agreed and said it was time the district
assert itself legally again.

"I would support (issuing) a notice of cure as soon as possible," he said.

McLaughlin, joined by a cadre of Envision executives and supporters,
acknowledged the school's financial difficulties but said that he
expected that a surge in student enrollment (between 75 to 110 new
students) for the 2006-07 school year would drive the school into the
financial black enough to establish the reserve fund.

On Wednesday, McLaughlin noted that MSAT already has received 50 new
student applications for enrollment for the 2006-07 school year.

"Let me assure everyone that this isn't a matter of MSAT going under -
far from it," he said.

McLaughlin said Envision, a nonprofit corporation, remains financially
viable, has a $1.1 million cash reserve and has been the recent
recipient of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He noted that charter schools commonly struggle financially in their
first five years of operation due to costly one-time expenditures for
equipment, computers, books and supplies.

At the end of the session, board members decided to avoid issuing a
"notice of cure" to MSAT, fearing the action would place a "chilling
effect" on the school's efforts to recruit students that would doom
its financial rehabilitation.

However, the board directed district staff to set up a schedule of
frequent "checking points" to determine whether the school is making
adequate progress to establish financial solvency.

The board also asked Jim Cerreta, the district's chief financial
officer, to regularly report back on the results of those so-called
"checking point" meetings.
##

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you get your information from more than one source, I hope? Are you aware that Jeff Mitchell has a history of being negatively biased in his articles about Marin School of Arts and Technology. How about some balance? How about an article that is based on the what the school has meant to hundreds of teenage children in Marin County? When you print information that doesn't represent both sides fairly, and hasn't been adequately researched, do you think about the implications it might have upon those hundreds of teenage students of which you have no knowledge?

12:00 AM  

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