Why “Choice” Isn’t Free
A loss of 544 students to a new stand-alone Charter School would divert close to $3 million dollars from the budget of the Novato Unified School District. NUSD currently receives $5,300 per student from a combination of State funds and local property taxes. A new Charter School would essentially become a School District of one (1) school with a diversion of this per student funding to them. In the words of one of our District Administrators, “the money follows the kids.” According to Karen Maloney, the CFO for the School District, the loss of this much funding would likely eventually result in the closure of a neighborhood elementary school. In more specific terms, a school closure would result in the loss of 25 or more teacher jobs, 5 teacher aides, 3 administrative staff, several food service and maintenance workers, as well as one principal. In addition, the NBEF Charter petition proposes a school of 864 within five years. This additional loss of funding would likely result in the closure of an additional elementary school in Novato. But the loss of funding is not “one to one,” according to Ms. Maloney, as these monies fund additional School District programs, including literacy and special education programs, which would also likely take significant hits from this loss of revenue.
While many reading this may feel that they personally won’t be affected by an elementary school closure, think again. One of the criteria for a school closure is declining future projected enrollment, according to District Administrators, a factor that affects some of our most beautiful and high scoring (API-wise) schools. In addition, the closure of an elementary school would result in students being moved to new schools, probably yours, disrupting longstanding childhood and family relationships and resulting in larger class sizes for all children in elementary and middle schools. This school closure would additionally result in teachers with the lowest seniority being “bumped” from their jobs by teachers with more seniority from the closed school, teachers who would probably be lost from NUSD forever. Some of our elementary schools would be hit particularly hard by this loss of low seniority teachers, including Hamilton and Pleasant Valley (see our “Latest News” section for more info on this).
In addition to diverting funds for students, Charters cost School Districts extra monies by continuing to rely on them for things like IT support and payroll for which they are often not reimbursed. Also, because a new Charter School would essentially be a School District of one (1) school, there would be a duplification of non-educational administrative, HR and fiscal services, resulting in a less efficient educational system with fewer dollars available for the classroom and a larger percentage of the budget spent on administration and support.
Finally, there are legal fees incurred by the District and overtime costs for our Fiscal Department, already overworked preparing for the possible fallout of Proposition 30, just to review this Charter School proposal, costs that we would not be paying otherwise. And the new Boundary Study completed last year at a cost to the District of $80,000 would be obsolete after 1 year! All of these are non-educational costs that divert money from our classrooms at a time when we can least afford it.
The District’s current 2013-2014 budget is already projecting spending $700,000 from their reserves. This level of deficit spending is projected to continue for several years until the State is able to restore education funding. Schools without adequate reserves are borrowing money until the state is able to restore funding. It is, in the words of one of our School District Administrators, the worst financial crisis facing the Novato School District.
It is not easy to start a Charter School. One in six (1 in 6) Charter schools in California fail due to financial insolvency or mismanagement and once this happens, unhappy students and families are left scrambling to find new schools, often mid-year. The number of failing Charter Schools is rising as State funding declines. The current budget crisis facing our District is the worst possible fiscal environment in which to start a new Charter School. New Charter Schools in the best economic times have uncertain enrollment projections, uncertain staffing costs and uncertain management execution. Our own Novato Charter School, considered a successful model by many, recently took out a large line of credit of $100,000 to cover short term costs. When you add in the uncertain state funding all School Districts are facing, you are dealing with a very volatile startup period. And the financial cost of failure would be carried by everyone in the District.
Novato has already undergone the painful effects of a school closure in the past few years. When you consider another school closure, as well as all the additional financial effects of this proposed school that would benefit just a few children at the expense of the entire School District, we think you’ll agree with us that: