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With revenues limited, charter schools to seek help

By Staff | May 8, 2018

The Cape Coral Charter School system’s governing board is looking to supplement the four school’s budget next year with money from reserves and possibly some help from the city.

The Cape Coral Charter School Board voted 5-1 Tuesday to use its reserves to fill a half-million-dollar hole in the budget and to seek help from the city manager and the Cape Coral City Council to see if there is a way to bring in more revenue or have the city come in and assume some of the administrative duties.

MaryAnne Moniz, charter school business manager, presented the numbers with School Superin-tendent Jacquelin Collins at this second workshop meeting and, after closing most of a nearly $2 million hole after the first workshop, painted a bleak picture in regards to a balanced budget.

With the anticipation of a 1 percent decrease in enrollment and restricted funds of $1.7 million that are not being used as the result of a lawsuit by the Lee County Public Schools which is contesting the state funding, the proposed $24.6 million budget will have a $500,970 shortfall.

Among the cuts were to Kronos (best practices), cafeteria equipment, replacement of a bus and LED lighting, which would save money in the long term, but require up-front costs.

The city-operated system also purchased about 550 Chrome-books for Oasis and McAuliffe elementary schools and Oasis Middle in the 2018 Fiscal Year budget and cut Smartboards at the middle school.

The high school won’t get new Chromebooks and will reduce spending on athletic equipment and coaches, the AICE program and texts.

Collins said the school system cannot afford to cut any more as it would have a negative effect on the students.

And with revenues dependent on limited streams and with deficits being forecast for the next three years, there needs to be another source with which to balance the budget and continue to teach kids and pay teachers.

Right now, that’s the reserve funds.

“Our charter school system is going to need a revenue stream to be sustainable over time, and we would like the city to help our system with in-kind services,” Collins said. “It’s something the city manager has talked about and was going to bring up with City Council. The city can help take over some of the departments that can free up some money toward children’s education.”

The biggest problem is at the high school, which is expected to run at a $790,000 deficit because of low enrollment, meaning the elementary schools, where there is a waiting list, are helping to fund it, but not nearly enough to balance the budget.

Thus, the dip into reserves, which may not fly with City Council no matter how much of a “jewel” the elected board believes it is. Collins said she is confident council will listen.

“I think City Council wants us to balance the budget, but also wants what’s best for the students and the school system because they value it,” Collins said. “I hope they’ll be OK with the fact that if we cut another $500,000, the students would suffer.”

City Business Manager Victoria Bate-man and City Attorney Dolores Menendez concurred that the business model that was used in 2006 probably will not work today, as it was not expected the charter schools would be so popular.

“It started out as a mom-and-pop. It’s not that anymore,” Bateman said. “We have a big problem here. You need to realize for the next three years you’re in the negative. More in-kind services with the city is in order.”

Board Member Russell Winstead said the system is the victim of its own success in a way, and that it’s time to look at how things are run in a different way. Maybe revisit Chapter 26, which delves into the charter schools.

“We need to find a way to bring in more students and re-evaluate how we interact with the city,” Winstead said. “We are such an asset. It’s a foolish discussion to reduce kids benefits to balance the budget.”

Cape Coral City Councilmember Jennifer Nelson, council’s liaison on the authority, said the system is in a bind.

“I would hate to see us take away from the students to balance the budget. The system has grown a lot, but what do we have five years from now because we can’t keep going into reserves,” Nelson said.

“We plan to get with the city. We have a great system and we’re a team to make it work out,” Winstead said. “It’s a natural evolution when systems grow and the finances that are ours are restricted. That $1.7 million would make a huge difference. It would wipe out immediate issues.”