UNION TWP. — With a preliminary budget deficit of $790,000 staring them in the face, Northwest Area School Board members on Wednesday questioned the legality of $113,500 in bills from charter cyber schools.
The board voted to authorize Solicitor John Audi to research the legal aspects of withholding payment to these online schools. Audi said he would investigate and prepare a report for presentment at the March meeting.
The board voted to table payment to Agora Cyber Charter School ($101,814.46), Bear Creek Charter School ($4,916.38), Commonwealth Connections Charter School ($4,916.37) and Pa. Leadership Charter School ($1,854.19).
Chairman Randy Tomasacci raised the issue of charter cyber school expenses when he asked Audi if the board could vote no on making payments to these schools. Tomasacci also asked, “Can they retaliate by subtracting payment from our state subsidy?”
Audi said he would research the matter.
Tomasacci said charter cyber schools are misrepresenting their position when it is stated in TV advertising that classes are “tuition free.”
“They’re not free. We’re paying for them through taxpayer funds,” Tomasacci said.
Superintendent Ronald Grevera said that on average cyber education it is costing Northwest Area $8,000 per student. He estimated that 48 district students are enrolled in charter cyber classes.
He said the money being expended for charter cyber could go “a long way in eradicating the deficit we face in our preliminary budget.”
Grevera said these schools are lacking in accountability, as well as supervision. “It has been my finding that achievement levels for these students are lacking,” he said.
On budget issues, the board approved a preliminary $18.9 million 2014-2015 spending plan that projects $18,082,958 in revenue. Property taxes are listed at 9.8999 mills, up from the 2013-2014 rate of 9.417 mills.
A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in asessed property valuation.
Tomasacci noted that the board has until June 30 to make adjustments and present a balanced budget to the state Department of Education.
Tomasacci said reducing costs will be a primary goal of the board and administration.
In other fiscal matters, the Albert Melone Co., financial advisor for the district, was authorized to seek quotes on a tax anticipation loan; $23,657 was transferred from the capital funds account to pay for work and engineering fees for the high school renovation project and $36,000 was remitted, plus $14,000 in attorney fees, to resolve a legal case involving an unnamed special education student.
In addition, $9,700 was approved for engineering services by Peters Consultants Inc. for the field house and the payment of $675 was OK’d for boring tests by Yost Excavating at the proposed athletic fields.
In other matters, the board decided to formulate a plan for snow emergency school bus routes for the 2014-15 term and it approved the appointment of Chris Nice as a long-term mathematics teacher.
Board member Albert Gordon, when the curriculum committee report was presented, raised questions about references, specifically to Russia in a book designed for world geography classes. He also expressed reservations about the credibility of a course titled “History Thru Hollywood.”