Elkin officials concerned about state legislation on funding charter schools

On Monday, N.C. House of Representative members are scheduled to consider revisions proposed by the N.C. Senate for House Bill 593, which would channel more funds traditionally allocated for public schools to charter schools.

Rep. Sarah Stevens, who represents all of Surry and part of Wilkes counties in the House, said it is important for people to understand that charter schools are also public schools. “We don’t send any funds at this time to private schools,” she said.

Stevens said she has been told that the Senate revisions lower the amount of money to be transferred to charter schools than the original bill submitted by the House. “But the fact that the Senate made any changes is why we have to look at it again,” she said.

Elkin City Schools officials have serious concerns about the legislation based on information they have received, but Stevens said some of them are unfounded. One of those is that the school system would have to give part of the 2 percent refund it receives from the 7 percent sales taxes it pays out on orders and purchases to the charter schools.

“That’s not something we intended,” she said.

Dr. Randy Bledsoe, superintendent of the Elkin City Schools, acknowledged that some of the earlier information they were provided about House Bill 593 has changed, “but there are still pieces of that legislation that are very harmful to public schools. People need to pull that piece of legislation up and review it.”

Bledsoe said he had shared his concerns “that our board and our leadership team were against taking funds away from traditional public schools and placing them in the charter schools” in an email to Stephens and a phone call to Sen. Shirley Randleman, who represents Surry, Stokes and Wilkes counties in the N.C. Senate. “I hope our elected officials are reviewing the information that we’re sharing with them and will not support the legislation.”

The superintendent urged people in the school district to look at the legislation, review it and contact the legislators about any concerns they might have. “There’s still part of it that will hurt the traditional public schools,” he said.

Dr. Richard Brinegar, chairman of the Elkin City Schools Board of Education, said Bledsoe has been keeping board members informed on what is happening with the proposed legislation.

“There are concerns, of course,” he said. “We have concerns anytime they take money away from public schools. Anybody would. I’m not sure how it’s going to go.”

School board member Frank Beals said the legislation could create a messy scenario. If the state allocates federal funds and tax money to a charter school which rent its buildings and it ends up closing, there would be no way to recoup the money.

“Sending them money for the kids’ day-to-day operation is one thing,” Beals said. “That’s great. They should get that, but sending all these other resources that go into facilities and programs that they may not be able to maintain and won’t come back to the state in any shape or form, that’s not appropriate.”

Jan Zachary, director of business and financial services for the school system, said information being provided to Elkin City Schools officials has changed throughout the week.

“All of it is very confusing because they just keep going around and around with the whole thing,” she said. “It goes in, it comes out and it goes around and around again.”

Stevens said the whole purpose is educating the students in the school district where the students go. This comes from taxpayer money for the purpose of education.

Based on the information school officials have received, Zachary said public school officials would have to share with charter schools such funds as indirect costs, including child nutrition.

“These are reimbursements for costs associated with the administration of federal programs, the largest of which is the child nutrition program,” she said. “These dollars are important because they are reimbursing not only for financial accounting but also for the utility costs associated with the program (cooking the food, keeping the refrigerator running, etc.)”

Zachary said it is also school officials’ understanding that funds from PTAs, band booster clubs and other parent/community groups that support individual schools would also have to be shared with charter schools. “While a grantor often requires that a gift or grant be used for specific purposes and may require an accounting of such, we have never seen a requirement that the funds be placed into a segregated fund.

“This would be the equivalent of someone giving a gift to a church and then requiring the church to put it into a separate internal fund on the church books. This usually does not happen.”

Among the concerns is that the Elkin City Schools would have to share the projected $872,490 in supplemental tax revenue with the charter schools even though both of them are outside of the district and one of them is in another county. While the Millennium Charter School in Mount Airy is located in Surry County, Bridges Academy of State Road is in Wilkes County.

Based on the charter schools’ enrollments for last year, Zachary said this would be around $21,800 paid by residents in the Elkin City Schools district to the charter schools.

The Elkin City Schools would also have to share the projected $872,490 in supplemental tax revenue with the charter schools even though both of them are outside of the district and one of them is in another county.

During the 2014-15 school year, Zachary said about 26 students who live in the Elkin City Schools district attended the two charter schools. “This House bill is using the premise that the money should follow the child wherever the child goes,” she said. “Our problem is it follows the child and the money goes out of the Elkin City Schools district.”

There has been litigation between charter and public schools before, and Zachary said this new legislation will likely result in even more.

Another issue with the legislation, she said, is if a student for the Elkin City Schools district, for example, decided to leave one of the charter schools and return to the public schools, the money would not come back.

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 336-258-4058.

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