Low score means less funding for charter school serving lake | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Low score means less funding for charter school serving lake

A charter school system with a facility in South Lake Tahoe will spend $1.2 million in reserves on raises and benefits for its teachers rather than using the cash to cover a loss of $1.6 million from state funding.

The result for Visions in Education, a system that serves 260 students in South Lake Tahoe and 4,500 students in Northern California, was a gaping hole of more than $1 million that would have previously been funded by the state for attendance. It forced the school to cut at least one course and money for lessons in arts and physical education.

“We’ve had to make some cuts in things such as private lessons,” said Dianne Lederer, public relations administrator for the charter school. “Any things that are nonacademic courses.”

Visions serves home-school and independent study students. About three-quarters of the 4,500 students Visions educates are independent study pupils who use classrooms and instruction from teachers to help get a high school equivalency diploma.

Some of the students are athletes or musicians who can’t accommodate a regular high school schedule. Others have academic or behavior trouble.

Visions will get its money back when its 2003-04 fiscal year begins July 1, Lederer said.

Like public school districts, charter schools receive money from the state based on average daily attendance. Since students don’t sit in classrooms at Visions, attendance is calculated by tabulating academic records.

State law requires charter schools to have an audit that tracks student attendance by checking academic performance. The audit for Visions concentrated on the span of time from 1999 until Jan. 17, 2002, Lederer said.

Lederer said the audit found “mistakes in paperwork” such as some teachers not putting the correct date when homework was submitted or giving a grade on an assignment without describing the reason.

Visions, based in San Juan Unified School District in Carmichael, received a low score on the audit and the state cut $1.6 million in funding.

Reserves could have covered most of the shortfall, but $1.2 million in backup money had to cover teacher raises, thanks to a California Senate Bill passed in 2001.

Senate Bill 740 required 50 percent of all money collected from average daily attendance to go toward staff salary and benefits. Visions wasn’t at 50 percent and instead was about 12 percent. The charter school had to use its $1.2 million reserves to cover the difference, Lederer said.

While knowing it had to compensate for the $1.6 million loss because of the audit, Visions cut a fabric and fashions course and froze funding for private lessons in arts and physical education. The funding is part of a student service agreement in which the school gives each family $1,300 for textbooks, tutoring, curriculum materials and computer use. Lederer said today marks the time when parents can’t use portions of the $1,300 for those private lessons.

The South Lake Tahoe division of Visions wasn’t affected much. Since the fabric and fashions course was offered during its fall semester and wouldn’t have been offered this spring, it didn’t have to be cut, said Carey Brown, education center coordinator for the Tahoe office.

Brown said she isn’t aware of any students dropping from Visions because of the temporary slash in the student service agreements.

“There have been no cuts as far as anything students need to learn such as textbooks, classes, tutoring, teachers,” Brown said. “They were just extra-curricular type of things that were cut just for the semester. The parents are very understanding. I think most parents realize if they sent their kids down to any school, it wouldn’t pay for snowboarding. You obviously can’t cut core curriculum and we wouldn’t do that.”

Eileen Cubanski, manager of the charter schools office in the California Department of Education, said the audit is performed after California gives funding to the charter schools. She said if there is a discrepancy, the charter school receives a cut in funding the next year.

— Contact William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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