Fresno charter school's finances questioned

FUSD board ill at ease with academy's $56,000 shortfall.

The Fresno BeeMarch 21, 2012 

The financial health of one of Fresno's charter schools came into question Wednesday night at the Fresno Unified School District board meeting.

The Fresno Academy for Civic and Entrepreneurial Leadership charter petition is up for renewal, and district trustees and staff expressed uneasiness about the school's finances. The school, which opened in 2009, will end the fiscal year with a roughly $56,000 shortfall, said Jacquie Canfield, executive director of fiscal services for Fresno Unified.

Canfield said the school has had trouble paying its bills to the county and the district is concerned the school may not be able to pay off debt.

The school's executive director and principal, Dave Childers, said he shared trustees' concerns but was confident the school was growing quickly enough to survive. Childers said he deferred his paycheck until the staff's checks cleared because he was concerned there wouldn't be enough money in the bank to cover everyone's salary. He has since been paid.

The school expects to be in the black later this year, after the state reimburses it. Canfield said the charter school will have about $27,000 in reserves -- more than 2% of its roughly $1 million budget -- after the state pays what it owes.

The board will decide next month whether to renew the charter through 2017. Fresno Unified first chartered the school in 2007, although the school's opening was delayed for two years.

Fresno Academy for Civic and Entrepreneurial Leadership has 133 students in grades 9-11. Childers said the school is expecting another 61 students next year, although district staff said that may be ambitious. The school has enrolled 40 to 50 new students each year.

Clarification: Childers clarified that the school has a cash flow shortage because it is waiting on deferred payments from the state. The school’s budget will be positive by this fall.

In other action:

-- Trustees agreed to change a policy that -- on paper, at least -- assured that the district would cover the entire cost of health benefits for school board members.

In practice, trustees have paid the same premium as all Fresno Unified employees. It was, according to some trustees, an understood agreement. The issue surfaced during a discussion of a board policy that included the reference.

The policy was written in 1991 -- a year before the district started charging employees premiums. Trustees agreed Wednesday it was time to revise it.

-- Superintendent Michael Hanson rebuffed criticism that the district withheld information from the media, trustees and community members. He said staff may not fulfill a trustee's information request if it requires intensive staff time unless a board majority supports the request.

Hanson's remarks came in response to Trustee Larry Moore's request that the board discuss access to district information.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or on Twitter @heathersomervil

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