Last Monday’s Public Charter School Board meeting proved to be one of the more interesting sessions I have attended. Not only did we learn what new schools were approved but we found out that the Board is developing a new policy for closing a single campus of multi-campus charters.
Also on this night Executive Director Scott Pearson presented a proposal to increase the amount of money the PCSB collects from the schools they authorize. The idea is to change slightly the definition of the 0.5 percent of public revenue that is charged as an oversight fee. In the past the 0.5 percent was applied against local money which included the per pupil allowances for teaching and facilities. Mr. Pearson’s suggestion is to broaden this category to include Federal funds. The impact of the modification is that the PCSB would bring in another $500,000 a year.
The Executive Director took the audience through a slide presentation which detailed the need for the enhanced revenue. The Board is facing budgetary pressures due to three factors. First, they have to pay for items that in the past were covered by grants. The best example here revolves around the $600,000 to maintain a data collection system which was previously funded through a contribution.
Mr. Pearson also pointed out that school closures cost money. Sometimes, the PCSB has elected to pay vendors or staff to finish out a school year. In addition, there are expenses related to making sure that students have a new school to attend. Although the PCSB has never budgeted an amount for this item this year they have put aside $150,000.
Lastly, the PCSB has received lower levels of support from OSSE and the D.C. Council. I was surprised to learn that this fiscal year the organization is receiving $1.076 million from the Council. I thought the PCSB was funded completely from its charter schools.
Of course, a logical question when charters are facing an increased tax from the Board is whether expense reductions have been sought. Mr. Pearson said that he has been able to reduce costs by over $657,000, mainly by lowering expenditures in IT, outside consultants, and other fees. An additional $118,000 in savings is planned.
There are also some new costs the PCSB is planning on incurring. It wants to hire a General Council at $143,000 a year. The Board is also planning on increasing compliance efforts which are budgeted for $55,000.
The bottom line is that on a revenue budget of $4,063,000 the Board plans on spending $617,847 more than it brings in.
Mr. Pearson explained that the additional revenue will cost schools an extra $16 per pupil. For the average charter of 400 students that is $6,400 a year, which is not a negligible amount of money.
So the question is should the PCSB receive the needed funds? Of course it should. The PCSB runs an extremely lean high quality operation overseeing 53 schools on 99 campuses with 21 employees. This comes out to a cost per student of $127. I’m sure the expense of the central office of DCPS is many times this number. But then the quandary becomes should schools be paying for the increase?
Here the answer is no. I look at this issue as another of the inequities in revenue facing the charter movement. DCPS schools are not charged a management fee. Just like the regular schools the City should cover the expenses of those that regulate them. Let the PSCB join the fight to which the charters are now engaged. If it ever does come down to a court battle with the Mayor over illegal differences in funding between charters and DCPS, the PCSB has standing to join the cause.