Sunday, December 13, 2009

Numbers Game?

Sac City school district monthly school enrollment figures reveal more important questions about the state of Sac things at St. Hope/Sacramento Charter High School.  Either Sac Charter has lost a troubling number of in-district students during the third month of the school year or its enrollment figures have serious discrepancies with important financial implications for both the school and the school district.

All school enrollment--whether traditional public or charters--are provided to the school board and the public every month or so.  These figures include enrollment at the end of each month, average attendance percentages and a break out of enrollment by grade level.

Charter school enrollment also includes categories for in-district and out-of-district students.  This is important because charter schools are generally free to recruit students from outside the district, even if they are using school district owned facilities.  Charters using district facilities are required to operate under board-approved facility use agreements, which are governed by state law and which seek to ensure that the facilities funded with district tax-payer dollars are adequately serving in-district children.  These use agreements include provisions that allow the district to seek penalties if the charter school is not actually serving the number of in-district students projected by the charter organizations when the facility use agreements were formulated.

If the charter over-projects its actual in-district enrollment by 10% or more, then the district is entitled to over-allocation fees from the charter school operator of approximately 1425 per unit of ADA for each unit of projected ADA over the 10% threshold. * (ADA stands for Average Daily Attendance and it measures the average number of students who are enrolled and actually attending classes at the school.)

Sacramento Charter High School's enrollment figures for the first month of the school year* show the following:

Enrollment of In-District Students:                 867
Enrollment of Out-of-District Students:          105

Total Enrollment:                                              972

(For comparison, near-by comprehensive high schools, C.K. McClatchy and Hiram Johnson show first month enrollment figures of 2208 and 1966, respectively.)

The in-district enrollment figure of 867 conforms closely to the St. Hope projection of 880 in-district students that it included in its request for a facility use agreement for the Sac High School campus during the 2009-2010 school year.  

However, something funny turns up in the Sac Charter enrollment figures for the third month * of the school year (ending November 27, 2009).

Enrollment of In-District Students:                699
Enrollment of Out-of-District Students:         272

Total Enrollment:                                             971

While total enrollment increased by one student, the change when it comes to in-district versus out-of-district students is eye-catching.  Apparently, Sac Charter is down 168 in-district students since the school year began and up 169 out-of-district kids.   This discrepancy of 168 fewer enrolled in-district students is well over the 10% threshold that triggers a penalty.

If it is indeed true that 168 in-district students left Sac Charter then it is essential that the school board investigate why the school lost 20 percent of its in-district students during the third month of school, including where these students went.

Either these enrollment figures are true, which raises the above troubling question, or the numbers are false, which leads to other serious questions about St. Hope's reporting of its enrollment.

The onus is on the school board to get to the bottom of this.  Quickly.

* The first link is a PDF of the Executive Summary to the SCUSD Board attached to the SCUSD/St. Hope Facilities Use Agreement dated November 5, 2009.    Please see page  5 of the PDF.

Enrollment links are to district generated PDFs.   For the first month's enrollment, please refer to page 5 of the PDF.  For the third month's enrollment, please refer to page 13 of the PDF.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let's Not Forget CASA

This important comment on a previous post caught our eye:

Contrary to popular belief, there are millions of dollars to be made in education. Charter schools, corporate take overs, non-profits, and the like are all cleaning up under the guise of reform. They have six-figure salaries, and the kids are getting squat…

It made us think about the California Administrative Services Authority pension scandal brought to us by the Sac City District administrators and board members who gave away of Sacramento High School to Kevin Johnson and St. Hope.  CASA also involved the creation of a murky charter school management venture.  Under the CASA umbrella, high level Sac City District officials positioned themselves into lucrative management contracts to administer the business operations of the same charter schools they helped establish.

CASA, approved in 2000, was an alternative pension system to the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPers) that promised to pay thousands of dollars more in retirement benefits to participating  District administrators and other eligible employees.    The deal raised eyebrows among vigilant community members when it was revealed that this supposedly cost-neutral plan to retain District employees with the lure of a sweetened  retirement package, required the issuance of bonds to guarantee its financial stability (with the District on the hook to repay the bonds if CASA couldn’t) and required participating members—including the District’s then-Superintendent, Jim Sweeney and -Chief Financial Officer, Laura Bruno, the architect of CASA*—to leave the District’s employ to officially work for CASA.   While CASA officials claimed the only change involved the entity signing the participants’ paychecks, critics were quick to point out that the top District administrators no longer officially worked for the District. 

The story got worse when the public learned that the school board additionally voted to spike the pensions of Sweeney, Bruno and then-District legal counsel, Martin Fine by rolling in mileage and expense allowances into their salary calculations.  The board also voted to grant Sweeney an additional 10 years of service credit.  When Sweeney retired, the extra years more than doubled his total service credit with the District, from nine to 19 years and nearly tripled his monthly retirement pay-out from about $3600 to $9900 a month.

CASA finally collapsed after a “community investigative team” led by education activist Reginald Fair issued its own report on the flawed legal, ethical and financial assumptions behind the plan.  That report prompted an independent audit, a stinging grand jury report and official warnings from CalPers that the District faced severe legal repercussions.   The whole thing has cost the school district millions of dollars in legal proceedings and settlements, while fundamentally shaking the public trust in District decision making. 

*Laura Bruno was listed on the St. Hope Schools website as a board member during the Sacramento Charter High School start up years (and well after her role as the CASA creator was revealed to the wider public through the various investigations).

 For more, read the Sacramento News and Review story from July of 2003.