Charter schools warned of potential budget cuts

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Despite saying the law does not allow Pre-K student funding at charter schools, the government’s oversight board only disapproved Guahan Academy Charter School from enrolling additional students for this grade level, to prevent displacement of these children.

Guam -With possible budget crunches looming in the upcoming fiscal year, charter schools might have to make due with less than ideal budgets cuts.  The Guam Charter School Council convened today for another special meeting concerning the Fiscal Year 2019 budget requests.

All three charter schools were present: Guahan Academy Charter School, I Learn Academy, and SIFA Academy.

Council members began by addressing GACS’s proposed budget, which at present, includes 64 Pre-K students.

“My concern is that if we’re going outside the law for pre-kindergarten, what else are we going to let outside the law as well?” asked Council Chairwoman Amanda Blas. “That’s just my concern.”

At $6,500 per pupil, GACS spent $416K on a portion of students not covered under local funding.  GACS’s overall budget request for the upcoming fiscal year is nearly $1.3M more than the Guam Legislature allocated for the current fiscal year.

Ultimately, the council decided to follow charter law and not accept any additional Pre-K students in the future. However, the current crop of Pre-K students at GACS will be allowed to continue their studies.

“The council’s best interest is always with the children, and we’re not going to displace [the Pre-K students] at this time,” Blas said.

Council Chairwoman Blas also asked GACS and the other charters if they were prepared to face a possible budget crunch.

“You’ve heard the discussion at legislative session. You’ve heard the sentiment in general. So, will GACS be able to survive on $6,500 at 740 [students],” she asked.

“We will not be able to at 740 –at that funding level,” GACS Chairwoman Fe Ovalles responded.

Ovalles explained that the charter school is already operating on a bare bones budget, but has successfully survived with what the school has been allotted.

“I just want to make sure that all of our charters are prepared for [a budget crunch]. You may not get your full budget request. We need to be prepared for that. The legislature said that it might be going the status quo [in enrollment]…we need to be prepared,” shared Blas.

Guahan Academy Charter School has faced criticism for enrolling an additional 197 students this past fall. Local law has capped funding at only 740 students.  In previous meetings, Ovalles has argued that although local funding is capped at 740, the school can certainly enroll additional students provided they secure their own means of funding.

According to the GACS chairwoman, the additional student enrollment is part of a five year plan to eventually enroll as many as 1,15 students. The fees collected from the 1,015 students will eventually help pay for the new Tiyan building, shared Ovalles. She also explained that the previous charter school council had originally approved the enrollment numbers.

But despite the previous blessing from the former council, Charter School Council Chairwoman Blas shared that the new council will make decisions according to charter law.

The council plans to finish reviewing the submitted budget proposals next week.