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The Martha's Vineyard Times

Charter School to weigh $3.49M budget

By Janet Hefler
Published: March 26, 2009

The administrators and board of trustees of Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) are fine-tuning a $3.49 million draft fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget for consideration and approval at the school's annual meeting on May 7. The FY10 budget represents a 3-percent increase over $3.38 million for FY09.

The Charter School operates as a public school, independent from schools in the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) system, under a charter granted by the state's Board of Education (BOE). The Charter School opened in West Tisbury in 1996. The state's Board of Education granted the school's five-year charter in 2001, which was renewed in 2006 for another five years.

The Charter School operates on a different budget cycle, not tied to the approval process at annual town meetings like other Island schools. The Charter School's budget process began this month, with a draft FY10 budget put together by director Bob Moore, assistant principal Claudia Ewing, and business director Seth Mosler.

On March 5, the Charter School held a meeting open to the school's board of trustees, staff, teachers, parents, and community members, at which time Mr. Mosler went over the budget, answered questions, and listened to ideas.

Mr. Mosler will present a revised final draft budget at the next board meeting on April 1. It will be posted with the board's comments prior to the Charter School's annual meeting on May 7, at which time board members, teachers, students, parents, and staff will all vote together on whether or not to approve it.

(A copy of the MVPCS FY09 and FY10 budgets is available here)

"Our budget meetings are a little different - at the town meetings and the regional school district meetings, the towns and regions can decide how much they're going to tax the people and how much they're going to spend on education," said Mr. Mosler in a recent phone call. "We're different, given that the state is going to give us a check for a certain amount."

Unlike other school budgets, which are included in Island town budgets, the Charter School's budget must balance out between revenues and expenses. There are no mechanisms such as overrides or excess and deficiency funds to make up any differences.

"If we have some kind of extraordinary expense coming up, whether it's for special education or fixing a roof or a boiler, whatever it is, we don't have any way to raise additional money, so we just have to find that money somewhere else," Mr. Mosler pointed out. "So our budget, I guess in some ways, is much more predictable, because we're given a block of money and we have to chop it up, rather than determining how much we really need to do what we have to do."

Divvying up the costs

The state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education calculates a per-pupil tuition rate for all school districts, which is allocated for each child the Charter School enrolls.

"The State has a very complex formula, but what they basically do is look at how much all of the sending towns pay to educate the kids in their schools, and if kids from those towns come to our school, then the state gives us that money," Mr. Mosler explained.

Because Martha's Vineyard is not regionalized as a whole, there are five different tuition rates for individual school districts in Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs, the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD), and the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School District (MVRHS).

MVPS business administrator Amy Tierney said Charter School tuition for Martha's Vineyard's towns amounts to $3,039,389 this year. However, that cost will be offset by a reimbursement of $666,242 from the state to compensate for increases in Charter School costs, she added.

The public school system makes estimated Charter School tuition payments three times a year, at the end of December, March, and June. Based on an enrollment census taken at the Charter School on March 1, Ms. Tierney said she adjusts her figures and settles up on the last payment in June.

"It's hard for us because we never know exactly how much is going out the door until the end of June," Ms. Tierney said. "But it's harder for the Charter School - they don't know until the end of June exactly how much money they're getting."

By the numbers

The Charter School's enrollment is capped by the state at 180 pupils and limited to 9 percent of net school spending. Currently, a total of 173 students in grades K-12 attend the school.

Applications of prospective students are submitted after open houses held at the Charter School every spring, and then names are drawn in a lottery and slotted into openings available by age and town of residence. "We don't get final enrollment revisions until March of the next fiscal year, so we have to project a year from now where the students are going to come from and how much we're going to get from each town," Mr. Mosler said.

Despite many variables, the school expects enrollment to be about the same next year, he added. Mr. Moore works under a three-year contract negotiated with the board that runs through FY2009, and has a new contract for an additional two years, Mr. Mosler said.

Mr. Moore's proposed salary for FY10, which will be his 11th year as director, is $119,605. For comparison, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Stephen Nixon's salary for FY10 will be $118,250.

The Charter School has 12 full-time teacher/advisors and 10 part-time teachers who provide instruction in everything from English to computer science to foreign languages to music. The full-time support staff numbers 14, include teaching assistants and the special education staff. Ten additional staff members include a nurse, physical education teacher, cook, librarian, and counselor.

Teachers work under one-year contracts, with salaries ranging from a beginning salary of $40,425 to a top level of $76,227. Although teachers do not receive step increases or extra pay for advanced degrees, they receive an increase for every year they teach.

The Charter School pays 75 percent of teachers' healthcare and dental insurance costs, as well as 100 percent of the cost of life insurance and short- and long-term disability insurance.

"We have given teachers, administrators and support staff equal increases since 1996, five percent each year," Mr. Mosler explained in an email this week. "We try to keep up with the other schools and on two occasions have given another five percent to catch up. We have always given the same increases to all staff, five percent, from part-time to full-time in all areas."

Making up the difference

Charter schools receive per-pupil allocations from the state only for operational costs and must rely on private fundraising for capital improvements, building and site fees.

"What we get as far as per pupil, we have to skimp and save and do whatever we can to make sure we maintain our building over the long haul," said Sam Berlow, president of the MVPCS board of trustees. "It saves the towns money - they get a school for that per pupil payment that maintains its entire building plan within that, with no extra."

Mr. Mosler said that a charter school may receive support from a nonprofit fundraising group, as long as the group was in existence before the school's charter was granted. In April 1994, a group of MVPCS founders formed a non-profit support organization, Options in Education, which owns the school building. The Charter School pays $15,000 a month - $180,000 a year - to rent it.

"Fortunately, the nonprofit Options in Education was established before our charter was granted," Mr. Mosler said. "So it's been a fundraising mechanism, a way to raise money to build the buildings and support the school, although the school more than pays its way with the rental cost."

Charter Schools do receive some money from the state for building maintenance, utilities, and cleaning. However, about four years ago the state switched from using a formula to determine the amount to using a state average of about $850 per pupil, Mr. Mosler said. "The change hurt us, as costs on Martha's Vineyard are about 30 percent higher than the rest of the state but we only get a state average," he pointed out.

Charter schools are eligible to receive federal and state grant funds, they may apply for private grants, and they may receive contributions.

Funds raised in campaigns at the Charter School last year and this year are going towards an addition with four new classrooms, as well as reconfiguration of classrooms and other improvements in the existing building.

"We hope the final addition will be opened in September - we're still fundraising for that," Mr. Mosler said. "We have bank financing lined up if necessary, so we're all set to get that completed and opened."