ACEL charter’s red ink prompts Fresno Unified scrutiny

The Fresno BeeSeptember 11, 2013 

Fresno Unified officials say they're planning to keep a closer eye on the Academy for Civic and Entrepreneurial Leadership, known as ACEL, after the downtown Fresno charter school reported a more than $200,000 negative financial balance last school year.

The district's chief financial officer, Ruth Quinto, said low enrollment is largely to blame for the loss. Quinto told Fresno Unified's school board Wednesday that the district will watch ACEL in a "much more rigorous manner" from now on, which will include monthly financial briefings from the school.

"Last year they came for renewal and had projected an ambitious increase in their enrollment and it did not fully materialize," she said. Charter schools, like traditional schools, get funding from the state based on how many students enroll. Quinto said the school is not facing any penalties at this time. If the school continues to operate at a loss, the district could send ACEL a notice and ask for a formal response to its concerns.

The district could not provide enrollment numbers for ACEL on Wednesday. Last year, Fresno Unified staff recommended against renewing the charter, citing concerns about the school's cash shortages and mounting debt.

ACEL focuses on independent learning and technology for grades 9-11, offering such programs as digital music. Students use iPads instead of textbooks, and the school has seen big gains in test scores.

In other business, the board approved a plan to earmark $1.5 million in recently reimbursed state funds to help pay for teachers' classroom supplies and career technical education programs. The proposal gives $250 to each teacher -- totaling $800,000 -- and about $400,000 for career education classes. The remaining dollars will go toward athletic equipment and music and art supplies for preschoolers.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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