Making good on promises made at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, Jane Watt and Tina Nash are in fund raising mode. The mavens of Marco Island Academy — the island’s charter high school — are prepping for a major push over the next nine months to raise some $555,000.
According to Nash, the board is focused on raising $255,000 by Dec. 31, 2014, which would cover the school’s operating budget for the entire school year. Then, between January and June, the target would be $250,000 for the school’s proposed expansion. The board wants to add two new portables before the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.
“We need to expand for next year,” says Nash, who is MIA’s director of development. “We have to have the money first.”
To be sure, the need for increased funding is not a new battle for MIA, or any other public charter school for that matter. While charter schools receive a per student share of state and federal funding and local property taxes levied for operating purposes by the school district that sponsors them, there are gaps.
In fact, Florida charter school’s receive $2,130 less per student, on average, than traditional public schools do, according to a study from the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform. The study looked at the budget year ending in 2011 in 30 states and 48 major urban areas.
A study released by Florida Tax Watch blamed the funding inconsistencies on a school districts ability to withhold up to 5 percent of operational funding from charter schools for “administrative service fees,” including data reporting, information services and teacher certification. Charter schools that are considered “high performers” are only assessed a 2 percent fee, but on average, school districts levy a 2.35 percent fee.
Then there is the capital outlay funding. Florida Tax Watch reported that the majority of capital funding for traditional district schools comes from local property taxes, which charter schools do not typically receive. Those charter schools that do receive capital outlay funding receive approximately 41 percent of what the traditional districts receives on a per student basis, and if distributed among all charter schools, this number drops to about 31 percent.
Charter schools in Florida can receive capital outlay funding through the Public Capital Outlay and Debt Service Program (PECO), but they must meet a number of stipulations to do so, including being financially stable, meeting state accountability standards for student achievement, receiving approval for operation during the year from their sponsor, and utilizing facilities that are not provided by the sponsor.
Additionally, the charter school must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Been in operation for three or more years,
- Be governed by governing board that has been established for at least three
- years, and operates both charter and conversion schools in the state,
- Be a feeder chain of a charter school, within the same district, that currently
- receives capital outlay funds,
- Be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or
- Utilize facilities provided by a business partner for a charter school-in-the-
Last year, MIA received a $96,000 capital outlay boost through PECO when it received its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but that money was quickly absorbed into the school’s budget shortfall. According to Watt, the capital outlay funding helped cover the leases for the school’s modular classrooms.
This year, the school will get only $77,762 for capital outlay, which, according to Watt, doesn’t even cover the modular rental, much less the land lease or any of the other facility expenses. For the 2014-2015 school year, MIA’s budgeted monthly operating expenses are $147,000, but it only receives $108,333 in funding to cover those expenses. The capital expenses include the land lease, portable rental fees, water, waste management, sewer, phone, pest control, lawn maintenance, electricity, cleaning services and computer network.
“The capital outlay amount changes every year and does not have a stable funding source,” Watt explains. “Unfortunately, this year we have more students, but the capital outlay decreased by almost $20,000.”
So, MIA is back at square one, and the school’s need for funding has become even more crucial as it expects to receive an “A” rating for school performance on last year’s standardized tests when the results are released next month. MIA outscored most every other Collier County high school except for Barron Collier High School. In comparison to all high schools across Florida, the results also showed MIA excelling as well, as overall the students led state passing averages in Biology by 19 percent, Geometry by 18 percent, Algebra by 10 percent and U.S. History by 27 percent.
This performance in turn has made demand for enrollment at the school skyrocket. Currently, there are 208 students attending the school, and a waiting list of at least 11 students. While the school will graduate 38 seniors in the spring, there are 150 eighth graders at Marco Island Charter School Middle School alone. If even half of them want to go to MIA, the school’s waiting list will only grow.
Nash and Watt already have two big fund raising events planned to help meet the school’s fiscal needs. First is the Squire’s 2014 Hickory Challenge golf tournament, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 15, at The Rookery at Marco, beginning with a shotgun start at 1 PM. The cost to play is $150 per player, and sponsorships also are available for the event a $500 per hole or $1,000 per hole plus four golfers and dinner.
The second event will be the Bill Rose Memorial Sporting Clays Classic, and will be hosted in part by Marco Island’s own Terry McCreanor. Set for Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, at Gulf Coast Clays, the event will begin at 8:30 AM with registration and a safety lesson. Shooting starts at 9:30 AM. For the $200 entrance fee, participants get 100 clays, ammunition and lunch. Want to sponsor a shooting station? The cost is $250.
Nash adds that parents of students also are stepping up to help fund the school: “If parents don’t support the school, no one else will either.”
For more information on either fund raising event for MIA, contact Nash at 239-393-5133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.