A number of Peekskill school officials and parents are concerned that the Guardian Academy Charter School proposal will push a district that is already cash strapped into an even more tenuous financial situation.
The proposed charter school, which officials announced in February, would be situated inside the Assumption School, which is closing at the end of this school year. The school, if it receives state approval, would open during the 2014-2015 school year and serve 200 students in grades K-2.
The school would then add another grade each subsequent year, before maxing out at the eighth grade. Students would be enrolled using a lottery system, with Peekskill students receiving preferential treatment. Slots would be opened up to students in neighboring school districts if enough Peekskill students don't enroll.
A number of community members have come forward in favor of the proposal, because of the choices it will provide students in the community. But others have raised concerns that the Guardian Academy will take away resources from the Peekskill schools.
Joseph Urbanowicz, president of the school board, was present during a public information session that was held for the charter School on Monday. More than two-dozen people attended the session, which ook place at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill.
Urbanowicz said another group approached the school district about creating a charter school at the vacant Uriah Hill School building earlier this school year. Urbanowicz said study conducted on the proposal showed that the school would take hundreds of thousands of dollars away from the school district.
“In no way, was it a win for the public school district,” Urbanowicz said. “It was a detriment.”
According to the state Education Department, a charter school’s funding is dependent on the number of students it serves. The funding is determined through a per pupil formula that is determined by the state and paid through the district the child lives in.
Charters schools are restricted from levying taxes or charging tuition.
According to the state School Law Handbook, a publication published jointly by the state School Boards Association and the state Bar Association, school districts can exclude payments to charter schools when making calculations during a contingency budget. A contingency budget is a barebones spending plan that places restrictions on how districts can spend on.
Districts are forced to use contingency budgets if their budgets are defeated twice during a public vote.
But charter school payments still count under the state’s property tax cap, according to David Little, director of governmental relations for the New York School Boards Association.
Little said school districts are penalized twice when charter schools are established. They are penalized the first time because of the funding they lose when charters schools are established.
The fact that these costs still count under the tax cap acts as another penalty, according to Little.
Michael Morey, a district parent, said he has two fundamental concerns with the proposal.
“The first concern is that if this charter school were to come to be, likely only one out every 10 children in this school district will have access to it and we have the potential of creating two separate and very unequal educational systems,” Morey said.
Morey said his second concern is the impact the charter school would have a school district that is already cash strapped.
“The district is already facing a $2.4 million budget gap next year and the cost of bringing on a charter school will explode that budget even further,” Morey said.
Audrey Warn, when of the members of the charter school’s founding board, said charter schools are part of the public school system. Because the money follows the child, money is not lost from the system; it is merely transferred between schools to the school actually serving the student, Warn said.
Warn said the per pupil cost in Peekskill was $22, 915 in 2010. Of those funds, only 71 percent would have gone to the charter school, while the rest would have remained in the district for support costs.
Warn also said the district would be eligible for transition aid to help make up for the number of students who enroll in the charter school. The transitional aid would replace 80 percent of what goes to the charter school in the first year, 60 percent the second year and 40 percent the third year.
"The Guardian Academy hopes to serve some of the most challenging students, English language learners,” Warn said in an email. “This would be good for the whole community. Recently, Peekskill has seen a growing student population – especially in the early elementary ages. A charter school can relieve growing pressure on the district by providing choice.”
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