Lincoln officials identify inequities with charter school tuitions

Lincoln officials identify inequities with charter school tuitions

LINCOLN - Lincoln taxpayers pay more to send students to the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy than do taxpayers of the other three sending districts, Cumberland, Central Falls and Pawtucket.

And the inequity will grow larger once the state funding formula is fully implemented. For example, Lincoln will be paying $4,000 more per student based on today's numbers than Cumberland.

Data provided from the Rhode Island Department of Education shows that in the current school year, tuitions for Lincoln students attending charter schools totaled $12,855 for those who do not receive free or reduced price lunch, and $14,171 for those who do. The state picks up 37.9 percent of the cost, so the local Lincoln appropriation is $9,566 per child.

Looking at the other districts' costs, RIDE calculations provided to The Breeze state that in FY2013, Central Falls tuitions cost $9,863 for those not receiving free lunch, and $13,095 for those who do. The state share is 93.1 percent, and the city pays $1,783 per charter school student.

Tuitions for Cumberland students equal $9,678 for students not receiving free lunch, and $11,094 for the rest. The state share accounts for 40.8 percent, and the town pays $6,137 for each student.

In Pawtucket, tuition for students not receiving free lunch is $9,746, and $12,603 for those who do. The state share totals 82.3 percent, and the city pays $2,603 per student.

David Lauck is the financial director for BV Prep, a charter school under the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies. He said for the same year, BV Prep has budgeted a cost of $13,000 per pupil, which does not include facility rental payments. Including capital expenditures, the cost per pupil for 2011-2012 was $13,294, he said.

Each of the four sending districts may fill 25 percent of the seats, about 192 each currently, although Lincoln hasn't met the cap in every grade.

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, who is on the BV Prep board of directors, said that there is an "inequity there that I think wasn't intended."

"I agree with the School Committee," he said, which is led by Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian, who has also voiced her concerns.

He's suggesting the town should appeal to RIDE and then go to the General Assembly to "correct an inequity."

The figures provided by RIDE are based on both partially-funded local numbers and fully-funded state numbers, she said. Once the state aid is fully funded in the next several years, Donabedian said the total local appropriation will be $11,695 from Lincoln, $3,323 from Central Falls, $7,505 from Cumberland, and $2,940 from Pawtucket.

"The fully phased numbers are the eventual reality, and therefore demonstrate what the real impact of all of this will be," she said.

Referring to last year's per pupil cost at BV Prep, Almond said, "It's my feeling that we should not be sending over any more than ($13,294)."

Jeremy Chiappetta, BV Prep executive director, explained that BV Prep gets more federal funding than other districts because the school's poverty level is at 65 percent. BV Prep also pays its own debt service, he said, unlike Cumberland, for example, where $30 million in high school renovations was included in town budget and not paid for by the school.

Chiappetta said he hopes facilities funding is improved in the state to allow for public charter schools to offer quality classrooms for every public school student.

"That Rhode Island allows the money to 'follow the child' to the public school of the family's choosing seems fair and reasonable," he said. "It is our sincere hope that Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln and Pawtucket all make the necessary investments for all of our young people to be globally competitive."

But Donabedian told The Breeze that the not all the money follows the child as it is intended. Some fixed costs, which include salaries, benefits and pensions for school personnel, stay behind.

When, for example, one child leaves each classroom to go to a charter school, the reductions are not significant enough to consolidate classrooms or teachers, Donabedian said. So money leaves the district to follow the student, but the district still has the responsibility to cover the existing fixed costs, she said.

Almond said his interpretation of the problem that comes along with additional state aid is that Lincoln has to foot the bill for other districts who have not kept their school systems fully funded.

He said when the process was first explained, he understood there to be a cap in place to keep charter school contributions from rising along with the town's own per pupil cost. But Almond said he has since learned from RIDE that this is not the case. The entire local share is considered, he said.

"I just think that's inequitable," Almond said, adding that he will be working with the School Committee to find out if this is "the expressed language in the new funding statute" or "RIDE's interpretation."

If the problem is at the state legislative level, Almond said he will advocate that the General Assembly correct the law.

Donabedian said, "Since the formula for calculating the local contribution to state and charter schools is codified in law, I believe the solution lies with the General Assembly making a change to that law."