Guest post by Russ Spicer, Headmaster of Liberty Common School in Fort Collins. This piece originally ran in the school's weekly newsletter, on Jan. 30, 2006.
An article about Poudre School District’s proposed budget ran in this week’s Coloradoan. Not surprisingly, the article mentioned on several occasions that “charter schools” were negatively impacting their budget. The article made sure to list charter schools as an expenditure of $8,420,457 dollars. This is exactly what the district would like everyone to believe. The reality of this situation is that it is not an “expenditure.” It is simply parents choosing to place their children in a charter school instead of the mainstream public school, and thus allowing the PPR (Per Pupil Revenue) to go with the child to the charter instead of staying in the district. Again, this should not be called an “expenditure,” it should be called an educational choice.
In the Liberty Common School - School Accountability Report, it is reported the Poudre School District revenue per pupil is $7,874.00. The actual funding provided by the state for Poudre School District students last year was $5,704.00. When you add on the local tax contributions, state tax contributions, federal grants, state grants, private/partnership grants, and other discretionary income, the number jumps up to the $7,874.00 as reported on the School Accountability Report. What the report fails to mention is that Liberty Common School does not receive money from all of the sources that the district does. We actually only receive additional funding through the charter school capital construction money and mill levies from 1998 and 2000. What does that amount to you ask? Our total per pupil revenue, for the 2004-2005 school year, was $5,983.00. That means that we operate on 76% of the district budget and can still be a high performing, nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School that consistently receives excellent ratings on the School Accountability Report.
It is faulty logic for the district to say that we are “an expenditure” to them. PSD simply takes the money given to them by the state of Colorado for our students (the $5983.00), and then returns it to us. That is it, plain and simple. Oh, and did I mention that they take out 2% of that money for “Indirect Overhead.” This money goes to the district to support the work that they are required to do with the charter schools. Please see listed below the costs of the “Indirect Overhead” for the past few years.
The only thing that the district can reasonably assert in regards to how charter schools are effecting their budget is that students whom are choosing to attend the charter schools indirectly cause the district to lose the money because those students are not attending their schools. The question that begs to be answered however is, “if the district schools were already meeting the needs of these students, why would they want to attend the charter schools in the first place?” That is the beauty about charter schools and schools of choice. The parents and students can talk with their feet. They have the option to choose the school that they feel is best. There is now competition in the choice of a school, whereas before there was none.
We are not “an expenditure” to the district. Liberty Common School is a very viable, educationally rigorous, academically strong, safe, award winning, fiscally sound, charter school of choice. One would think that PSD would want to embrace our school and other successful charters, and even try to implement some of our successful strategies instead of semi-denigrating us by calling us a drain on their budget.