Charter school a go

The temporary location of the Cannon Beach Academy at 171 Sunset Blvd.

The new Cannon Beach Academy, on track to open next year, will get at least $250,000 of the Seaside School District’s budget. Funds will come from the district’s existing four schools in order to serve the charter school students, but where cuts will be made has yet to be determined.

“We’re going to have to make some hard decisions, but we’ve done that in the past, and we still have a great school district,” School Board Chairman Steve Phillips said.

The academy won conditional approval to open from the district’s board of directors during a special meeting last week.

The district’s overall budget is slightly more than $21 million.

“There are an awful lot of things that are still to be negotiated,” Superintendent Doug Dougherty said, adding the district will work with Jim Green, an attorney from the Oregon School Board Association, to finalize details.

To start, the board will craft a three-year contract with the academy administration that allows the institution to begin with kindergarten and first grade and then add a new grade level each subsequent school year. The academy plans to offer education for kindergarten to fifth-grade students.

Oregon state law requires any school district sponsoring a public charter school to help pay for its students’ education. Those funds are diverted from the district’s operational budget, Dougherty said.

Rather than attempt to figure average individual student costs for each district, the Oregon Department of Education determines each district’s weighted cost per student. For example, kindergarten students are counted as half, and special education students, in effect, count as two students. The department determined Seaside’s weighted rate for the purpose of financing the charter school to be about $7,270 per student for 2015-16; based on state law, the academy would receive at least 80 percent of that, or $5,816.

The district is requiring the academy to have a minimum enrollment of 44 students for the 2016-17 school year, which amounts to an approximately $256,000 contribution from district funds in the academy’s first year of operation. When the enrollment increases to a capacity of 85 students — the academy’s goal — the district will have to divert about $494,000, Dougherty said.

The district is phasing in grade levels at the academy so the other schools do not take as large of a financial hit at a single time. The board of directors is aware Seaside likely will have to cut some programs, services or teaching positions at its existing schools.

“It’s going to give up something,” board member Hugh Stelson said. “There is not a lot of money running around.”

The Seaside School District’s primary source of revenue is from local property taxes collected each year.

The State School Fund does not contribute to Seaside School District, only one of five districts in the state that does not receive money from the fund. The department uses a complicated formula — which takes into consideration revenue sources, student ratios, poverty levels, transportation costs, transportation reimbursements from the state, teacher experience and other factors — to generate an annual total formula revenue based on equalization. If a district’s local revenue equals or exceeds the formula revenue calculated by the state, as Seaside’s does, then the district does not receive contributions from the State School Fund.

“Seaside has enough, if not more, local revenues than their formula revenue,” said Michael Wiltfong, the director of school finance for the Oregon Department of Education.

The Seaside district does, however, receive revenue from the Common School Fund and state-managed timber resources.

Phillips agreed that, with the arrival of the academy, there will be some cuts, adding he does not “want to go down too far in the discussion.”

The district will “look at attrition first,” as it has when making reductions in the past, Dougherty said. If teachers or other staff members are retiring or leaving the district at the end of the 2015-16 school year, “there are possibilities” to use that to balance the budget, Dougherty said.

“It sort of depends on how the district is looking from year to year,” he said. “We try to look at all possible situations within the district,”

The primary reason for the district setting the academy’s class size at a minimum of 22 students is to allow the district to reduce a teacher for each grade level at one of the existing elementary schools.

“If they only took 15 students, that would not allow the district to make those reductions,” Dougherty said.

The academy decision comes on the cusp of a special election Nov. 3 to determine if Seaside School District 10 will renew a local option tax for five years starting with the 2016-17 school year. The rate is set at $0.52 per $1,000 of assessed value. The local option tax, in place since 2000, helps fund the district’s operations by generating approximately $1.2 million per school year.

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