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Palm Coast Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 8 months ago

Districts agrees to pay out state money to charter schools

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The district had set aside state "sparcity payments" for its high schools only, but will now pay out some of that money to charter schools that don't serve high school students.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The Flagler County School District will pay more than $100,000 to Imagine School Town Center as part of a mediation agreement. The School Board voted in favor of the agreement 3-2 Jan. 16, with board members Colleen Conklin and Maria Barbosa dissenting.

The district, said School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin, had since 2005 been awarded state money called “sparcity payments” that are given to small school districts with fewer than four high schools in order to help the districts offset operating costs that are more easily borne by larger districts with larger tax bases.

The district, understanding that money to be tied to high schools because the criteria for receiving it is based on the district’s total number of high schools, then doled out the money only to its high schools — Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast, and, when it was still operating, a K-12 charter school called the Academy School of Excellence — to support programs like International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement.

“Flagler County has, from the time that we have been receiving those dollars, dedicated 100% of those dollars only to be used in our high schools ... to ensure that we were able to provide the IB, the AP, the dual enrollment classes and not restrict our students in the high school who are taking dual enrollment classes to only three per year,” Gavin said at a School Board meeting Jan. 16.

In 2012, Imagine, the charter school serving kindergarten through eighth grade, began requesting some of that sparcity money. The district didn’t grant it because Imagine didn’t serve high school students.

But Imagine complained that it should receive pro rata sparcity money as well. The school is independently run, but is public and free for students to attend.

The Florida Department of Education told the district that it was the only district in the state that was receiving sparcity funding and not providing its charter schools with a pro rata share. The district went into mediation with Imagine, and agreed to back-pay sparcity funding for the two previous years — totaling $164,511 — over the next 18 months, in addition to paying out Imagine’s regular pro rata share in the future. The district will also make pro rata sparcity payments to the district’s other charter, Palm Harbor Academy.

The situation frustrated some district officials because it redirects money from regular public schools to charter schools that don’t have to meet the same standards.

“Different level of accountability ... that to me is what is frustrating,” Board member Colleen Conklin said.

District Chief Financial Officer Tom Tant said the district is 64th lowest out of the state’s 67 districts in terms of the per-student state funding it receives for schools. Meanwhile, he said, it’s sixth-highest in required local effort taxes. “And now the state is taking away about $94,000 a year that we have, to allocate to our charter schools,” he said. 

The School Board voted 3-2 in favor of the mediation agreement. Conklin voted against it, saying she was doing so on principle; Barbosa joined her.

 

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