The Education Action Network

Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools

The Republic | azcentral.comTue Aug 13, 2013 4:57 PM

Higley schools is moving forward with its decision to gain more state funding by designating its new middle schools as charters.

Higley Unified School District’s governing body on Tuesday voted 3-2 in favor of approving its June 6 resolution regarding Sossaman and Cooley middle schools, which opened this fall.

Voting in favor was Denise Standage, Venessa Whitener and Kim Anderson. Against were Kristina Reese and Jake Hoffman.

The district, by operating the middle schools as charters, stands to gain an estimated $2.3 million in funding for the 2014-15 school year, according to HUSD Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty.

Additional state aid is given to charter schools to help them construct buildings, but when the state several years ago cut building funding for school districts, districts like Higley have been left trying to fund their own construction projects.

“The state was responsible for providing us the new schools and they’re not able to because of their budget issues,” Hegarty said.

District administration has stressed during several school-board meetings that converting the middle schools to charters is a financial decision only and will not change the curriculum, teachers or bus routes.

Although chartering the schools should bring in more money in the next school year, HUSD will lose its growth funding, which the district is estimating at about $2 million based on 500 new students. With approximately $1.7 million in additional funding for chartering the middle schools, the district might lose about $306,000 this school year.

Superintendent Denise Birdwell said during Tuesday’s meeting that the district may have gotten less money in growth funding this year than other years because it lost students to a newly-opened private charter school.

“This year is unique. … The piece that makes us different this year is that consistently growth has been around 500 … 550,” Birdwell said. “What the difference is this year is you have the Legacy (Traditional) School opening up next door, 160 Higley district students are leaving and as of today our growth is down 160.”

Whitener said during the board meeting she thought it was important to note that growth districts have been hurt more than others when it comes to funding cuts.

“Not many districts have had to grow with 28 percent in (budget) cuts,” Whitener said.

Hoffman, who voted against chartering the schools, said he was worried the move would “handcuff” future boards if they decided to revoke the charter. Public-school districts that revoke charters have to pay back to the state any additional funding they received.

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