APS – Questions BOE Should Address Prior to Making the ACA Charter School Petition Decision [Updated]

[Update – based on reporting by Mark Niesse at the AJC, the GA DOE questions the legality of Mr. Davis’ recommendation – Question 7 added]

As noted here in a prior post, Superintendent Davis is recommending that the BOE not approve the Atlanta Classical Academy charter petition. While the administration has stated that the petition is worthy of approval, Davis is recommending that no charter petitions be approved until the unfunded pension litigation is resolved (see here and here for more background).

The final decision on the ACA charter petition will be made by the BOE this coming Monday.

The following background information should be considered by the BOE and they should get answers to the questions posed below before making a final decision.

Question 1 – In the recommendation, Superintendent Davis refers to the disparity between charter and non-charter school “per student spending” and the recommendation states,

… charter schools and traditional schools will continue to be funded at a markedly different rate that will only increase over time.

The wording gives the impression that the cost of “per student spending” for charter schools exceeds the “per student spending” for traditional schools. Further, it implies that the pension liability will further exacerbate the “student spending” differential.

However, the current “per student spending” for non-charter school students is approximately $14 thousand per year before the additional cost of approximately $1.1 thousand per student for the pension payment. This compares to approximately $10 thousand per charter school student and represents a $4 thousand difference in favor of non-charter school students before the pension costs are included.

Even if the pension liability were to increase to $85 million per year and the full impact had to be absorbed by non-charter school students, the per student spending on non-charter school students would only decrease to approximately $13.3 thousand – which is still $3.3 thousand higher than charter school per student spending.

Would the Superintendent provide further analysis that supports the impression given by the recommendation that charter schools are being funded at a higher rate than traditional schools?

Question 2As a District, can the BOE afford NOT to grant a charter to ACA given the significant shortage of elementary school seats that now exists in the cluster?

Question 3If the BOE grants the charter to ACA, does the District avoid future building costs that otherwise would be required to expand the number of elementary school seats that will be required?

Question 4 – The near-term addition of 486 charter school students (685 in year 5) does not materially change the current allocation of revenues as compared to FY13. In fact, the addition of 486-525 charter seats over the next three years simply offsets the reduction of approximately 500 charter school seats due to the closure of a charter school in FY13. As such, the granting of the ACA charter has limited, if any, impact on the revenue allocation to charter schools as compared to FY13.

While the BOE must be cognizant of the pension plan liability and its future impact on expenditures for non-charter school students, the granting the ACA charter school petition appears to simply retain the “status quo” established in FY13.

Isn’t it reasonable to bring the number of charter school seats back to a level it was in FY13?

Question 5 – The pension “windfall to charters” argument is valid, but the examples provided by the administration result in a “windfall” only if:

  • Taxes have to be raised in the future to pay for the pension liability; and
  • Charter school enrollment, as a proportion of the school district, becomes much larger.

For FY14, the charter schools represent 7.4-7.6% of the QBE and local revenues allocation. The addition of 486-525 seats over the next three years will not materially affect this allocation and in fact, only brings it back to the FY13 level.

Given the limited impact of approving the ACA charter on the allocation of resources between charter and non-charter schools, is the BOE being short-sighted by not granting the charter if it will provide additional elementary school seats and at the same time not impact the current financial position of the District?

Question 6 – The recommendation to not grant any new charter petitions from this point forward seems unreasonable in light of all the known facts and the BOE’s understanding of the contributions made by charter schools in the District. At the same time, the BOE appears to accept that steps may have to be taken in the future to balance the investment in the education of charter and non-charter students.

Can the BOE establish a threshold level – possibly a maximum percentage of charter school students in the District – that would be acceptable even though the pending litigation remains outstanding? For example, would a cap of 15% on the charter school enrollment in the District be a reasonable accommodation until the pension liability issue is resolved?

[Added] Question 7 – In an article in the AJC by Mark Niesse,

…the head of the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter Schools Division, Louis Erste, said Davis’ position may run afoul of a state law that requires charter schools to be approved if they meet legal requirements and are in the public interest. “It’s based on a relatively flimsy argument, and it could be illegal,” Erste said. “You can’t punish brand-new schools because of a mistake made in the past.” [Emphasis added] 

Has the APS General Counsel considered the legality of the recommendation made by Mr. Davis, and if so, what is his opinion on the matter? Does the recommendation subject APS to another potential legal battle with the charter schools? If so, what would the benefits of such a legal battle be?

Question 8 – During the Drew Charter School expansion debate last year, BOE member Courtney English said [paraphrased],

If we know that Drew is providing an excellent education and exceeding what we are doing, why are we not asking them to take more students? Why are we even debating limiting the number of students?

In this case, a similar question would be – If the administration approves of the ACA plan, why would we deny students and parents in the District a chance to become engaged in a charter school deemed to be worthy by the administration?

Question 9 – We consistently hear that parental involvement is a key to success in educating our children. The ACA charter petition has over 1,500 parents that are passionate about the formation of the school and its success.

Shouldn’t the BOE actively encourage and want to harness the energies and passions of a dedicated group of parents and capture their passion in APS by granting the ACA charter?

Question 10 – With parents strongly supporting ACA, the District’s experience is that their success will translate into success for students.

Isn’t improving educational outcomes at the core of our mission? How can we deny this opportunity to the parents and children who stand to benefit?

The BOE is faced with a big decision. My hope is that they will consider the questions posed thoughtfully and return a decision that is in the best interests of the parents, students and their educational outcomes.

[Maureen Downy at AJC Get Schooled blog published this post in its entirety – thanks for the link!]

[Matthew Kirby, Chairman of the Atlanta Classical Academy launch team responds to Superintendents recommendation here – thanks for the link!]

[Buckhead Patch published this as well – Kiri thanks for the link!]

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

One Response to APS – Questions BOE Should Address Prior to Making the ACA Charter School Petition Decision [Updated]

  1. […] Stockwell has written about the unfunded pension liability challenge here. In this article, he poses marvelous questions to the APS Board related to our charter application. Mark Niesse has […]

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