School Board questions applicants over charter school budget
Charter school applicants answered tough questions Thursday night about the budget and operations for the proposed Loudoun Math & IT Academy (LMITA).
The budget, revised as part of the applicants’ response to a staff evaluation made by Deputy Superintendent Ned Waterhouse, was the main topic of the School Board Select Committee’s work session.
The committee is made up of chair Jeff Morse (Dulles), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling).
The proposed charter school will serve grades sixth through 12th, enrolling 196 students in its first year with a capacity of 672 students.
The curriculum is modeled after Chesapeake Science Point Academy (CSP), a STEM and IT school in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
The budget, which is estimated to leave the school with a $199,896.79 surplus at the end of its first year, a change from the original budget, which would have left a deficit.
The new budget eliminates bus transportation to and from school, with transportation listed as costing “$0.00” as a line item.
Waterhouse said that not providing bus transportation might be illegal because it restricts access to the school to students who have parents capable of dropping them off.
“The school is supposed to be accessible to all Loudoun County residents,” Waterhouse said.
While state law only requires that the school system provide free transportation to students enrolled in special education programs, students under age 10 can be exempt from attending school if they live more than 2 miles from the school and public transportation is not provided within one mile of their residence.
Students age 10 to 17 can be exempt from attending school if they live more than 2.5 miles from the school and do not have public transportation available within 1.5 mile of their home, according to state law section 22.1-254.
Sheridan said she wouldn’t support a plan for the school that didn’t provide for daily bus service, regardless of its legality.
“That now makes it an inequitable charter school for lower income family that rely on bus transportation,” Sheridan said.
Fatih Kandil, one of the present applicants, principal of the Baltimore IT Academy charter school in Baltimore and principal of CSP from 2006 to 2011, said budgetary concerns were the single reason they made the decision not to provide bus service.
“When you do the math and make sure that sure the budget is not going to be in the red by the first year and the following year, we had to make some adjustments,” Kandil said. “That is the only rationale behind making adjustments to the initially-approved budget by the state Board of Education.”
Turgeon asked questions about the roles and salaries for multiple administrative positions, including an assistant principal, principal, financial and records manager and executive director.
The first three positions are budgeted to about make approximately $81,000 in their first year. The executive director is budgeted to make $97,000 with raises to $109,554.52 by the school’s sixth year when it maxes out its student body size.
“There’s almost $350,000 in salaries here for the administration, which is significantly higher than school administration funding for each individual school we have now,” Turgeon said.
Ali Gokce, the leader of the applicants and potential executive director, said the job consisted of coordinating with the school’s governing board, the School Board and the school system and working with parent volunteers.
“The Executive Director is a large part as far as outreach to the community, kind of like an administrator in an administrative system,” Gokce said.
The committee also discussed moving back the opening date for the school. The applicants want the school to be open in time for the 2013-2014 academic year, which the school system says is impossible given the legislative approval process.
Kandil said that CSP and its sister school in Prince George’s County, Chesapeake Math & IT Academy opened within a shorter time frame.
“If a final decision were to made at latest, by the end of February, in a favorable way, we already have some developers who are interested in such a project,” Kandil said.
The Select Committee would hold a public hearing at 5:15 p.m. Monday at Briar Woods High School and will make its final review and recommendation on Dec. 13 at 5 p.m. at the Loudoun County Public Schools administrative building.