Report questions Prosser Creek’s solvency | SierraSun.com

Report questions Prosser Creek’s solvency

A financial report on Prosser Creek Charter School made public last week raises significant concerns about the school’s fiscal viability, according to the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

“These concerns go far beyond the accounting error that was discovered last February,” said TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma.

Some of those issues included: the amount of debt the school has accumulated – now approaching the $4 million mark, a possible conflict of interest in a land purchasing agreement and various concerns the district has with the charter school’s numerous satellite campuses.

Prosser Creek (PCCS) has a very different take on the report, though.

“In this report, FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team) has reinterpreted laws that have been guiding charter schools throughout the state for the last few years,” said PCCS Executive Director Jayna Gaskell. “Their interpretations go against the laws charter schools have been operating under and trained to follow. If these interpretations stand, they could effect hundreds of schools and thousands of students in California.”

Regardless of the differences in opinion, the 62-page report has garnered a lot public attention due to the effects it may have on the fate of the charter between the school and TTUSD, which is up for renewal in June.

More than 150 people filled the gymnasium at Truckee Elementary last week for a special school board meeting held for the report’s public release.

Average Daily Attendance

One area of contention revolves around the question of whether or not PCCS overstated its 2001-02 Average Daily Attendance (ADA) – the amount of money a school receives from the state per student per day that a student attends school.

The FCMAT report states that the PCCS overstated its ADA by as much 170 students, having claimed ADA for students who were ineligible according to state laws.

“The estimated maximum impact of the potential ADA revenue adjustment resulting from the FCMAT’s review is $891,747,” the report states. “Should this maximum loss materialize and be reflected in the 2001-02 financial records, the adjusted ending fund balance for 2001-02 will be negative. PCCS will be insolvent if such an adjustment to ADA of this magnitude is required in any one given year.”

PCCS, however, says FCMAT’s interpretations of the laws surrounding ADA are inaccurate and contrary to what charter schools have operated under and been told by the Department of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Credentialing

The ADA issue with the most potential to effect the charter school monetarily involves teacher credentialing and course assignment.

“Twenty-five PCCS teachers do not have the proper credentials to teach the classes or subjects to which they have been assigned,” states the FCMAT report.

FCMAT states that although the state laws allow for some “flexibility with regard to non-core, non-college preparatory classes” the team believes that PCCS staff has interpreted those credentialing requirements with more flexibility than the law permits.

“PCCS claimed 136.44 ADA relating to the programs taught by the 25 teachers with invalid credentials or erroneous assignments,” the report states.

Gaskell said that this type of assignment monitoring is not applicable to charter schools, though.

“Traditional schools have the ability to waive assignment monitoring by filling out forms with the CTC (Commission on Teacher Credentialing),” she said. “When we’ve gone to the CTC in the past to request this paperwork, we’ve been told that we don’t need to file it because the law is not applicable for charter schools. We’ve been told this in the past in workshops we’ve attended with the CTC. This has always been its stance with us.”

Students over 19

As for the issue of the school’s enrollment of students over the age of 19, the FCMAT report recommends that PCCS’s ADA should be reduced by 18.77 – a loss of roughly $105,806.

“The PCCS administration believes that a charter school pupil may generate ADA even if initial charter school enrollment occurs at age 20 and over, provided that the pupil remains in the charter school program and continues to make satisfactory progress toward a high school diploma,” states the report. “This belief is based upon an interpretation of a legal opinion provided by the CDE (California Department of Education) Web site updated as of Dec. 12, 2001.”

The report states that PCCS’s interpretation of the law is incorrect and FCMAT believes that the issue may require an opinion form the Attorney General.

Gaskell maintains that as of now, PCCS’s practices regarding students over 19 are in line with the Department of Education’s guidelines.

“The CDE has been working on reinterpreting and changing that law, but has yet to do so,” she said. “Should the law change, we will certainly make the necessary changes to abide by that change.”

Again, Gaskell stressed that this issue, as well as the other ADA concerns, will have to be decided by the CDE.

Next Steps

“In the weeks ahead, TTUSD will be in communication with Prosser Creek’s administration giving clear direction as to what must change in order for the school district to consider another five years of sponsorship,” stated the TTUSD’s press release.

Although TTUSD Superintendent Gemma said he was unable to discuss the specifics of those recommendations at this point in time, he said that TTUSD has already begun implementing the various recommendations laid out for the district by the FCMAT report.

TTUSD has also expressed its commitment to maintaining parent choice for alternative education for their children in the future.

“They are also committed to their responsibility of oversight for any charter school that they sponsor,” the press release stated. “The TTUSD District Board of Education is well aware of the positive feelings parents and students have towards the school. The board has received and acknowledged many anecdotal testimonies on how cherished the school and this educational choice is for the Prosser Creek student and parent community.”

Gaskell said PCCS has been trying to schedule a meeting with the district but has been unsuccessful.

“We’ve been trying to get in contact with the district but they will not respond,” Gaskell said. “They’ve yet to set up the meeting our board is supposed to have with theirs. It’s as though they’ve cut off communication.”

As for now, Gaskell said PCCS is moving forward with its refinancing plan, which plans to spread the school’s roughly $3.5 million loans out over a 20-30 year period, as opposed to the short-term plan it’s on right now.

“As for the any ADA adjustments, that will ultimately have to be decided by the Department of Education – not the Placer County Department of Education or the school district,” she said. “Right now, what we’d all like to do is get on with the business of educating kids well.”

Side Bar Info:

Scope of study

* Current financial status and future viability of PCCS

* Potential impact of PCCS on it’s sponsoring agency – TTUSD

* Debt obligations regarding land financing transactions and cash flow requirements

* Possible conflict of interest in the purchasing the Truckee school site

* Special education compliance

* Review of all satellite schools relative to attendance procedures, actual attendance and related documentation