Charter school faces budget crisis

by Courtney Price

Lake Norman Charter School on Statesville Road is facing a tough budget year.

In the face of what could be a $1.8 million cut in funding, Lake Norman Charter School raised $42,530 just this week in donations, Managing Director Tim Riemer said Wednesday.

The school held budget information sessions Monday and Tuesday nights, Feb. 21 and 22, to present the possible cuts and options for dealing with them.

“We wanted to identify the negative impact that some of the decisions may have on Lake Norman Charter School if the predictions regarding the budget reductions are accurate,” Riemer said.

Charter schools are locally funded by county state and federal funding. Because some federal grants are expiring, Lake Norman Charter will lose $800,000 in federal funds in the next school year. The school also expects a 10 percent cut in state and county funding.

It’s not yet clear where those cuts could be seen, but there are certain parts of the budget the school wants to preserve.

“One of the things our board is really committed to is supporting our teachers. We realize that teachers are our most valuable asset,” Riemer said, so they aren’t looking to reduce teaching staff at all.

Because funding for charter schools is based on student enrollment, the school could get more money by increasing the number of total students and keeping the same number of teachers on staff. Riemer said school leaders are considering slightly increasing the student-teacher ratio.

“We believe we could add a small group of students at each building that would not materially alter the climate,” he said.

The school receives about $7,000 for each of its 1,460 students, Riemer said, but that number will certainly go down.

The school is asking parents to donate $1,200 per student to counteract severe budget cuts for the 2011-12 school year.

“We do understand that every family’s financial situation is different, and not everybody is in the position to donate $1,200 per year per child,” Riemer said.

So far, the feedback from parents has been positive. Brian Sisson, a former Huntersville commissioner, has two children at Lake Norman Charter, and he said his family plans to make a donation to the school.

“Our kids just thoroughly enjoy the school. They enjoy the teachers. They enjoy the environment, the extra-curricular activities,” Sisson said.

“We collected $15,000 in on-the-spot donations at the end of our first meeting,” he said. As of Wednesday morning, that total had grown to $42,530, including donations from parents and some corporate matches.

The handout given to parents at the budget rally stated that 71 percent of the school’s budget supports salaries and benefits for teachers and staff. Five percent of the budget pays for school supplies and extra-curricular programs, and the remaining 24 percent pays for the school facility.

“We think we have a pretty good formula that’s generated a lot of success,” Riemer said. “It works for us, so we hope we won’t have to tinker with anything. That’s why we’ve asked parents to consider supporting our school.”

“It’s a quality education compared to some of the other schools around the area,” Sisson said.

The budget discussions are still ongoing, so there’s no deadline for donations yet.

“It’s important to note that this is a multi-year deficit, so the faster we raise money, the more we can get ahead of the game,” Riemer said.

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