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Jeannette school official: Cyber charters a 'drain' on district

Jamie Martines
| Sunday, June 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Jeannette High School on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Jeannette High School on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

The Jeannette City School District spent about $997,000 to send students to charter schools during the 2015-16 school year, according to Business Manager Paul Sroka.

The cost for the 2016-17 school year was about $820,000, when about 60 of the district's roughly 1,000 students, or about 6 percent, attended charter schools.

Such costs would represent about 5 percent of the district's proposed $19 million budget for the 2017-18 school year. The district does not receive reimbursement from the state to offset those costs.

Sroka said he expects even more students to forgo traditional schooling to attend cyber charter schools next year.

“It's a drain on the district,” he said. “It makes it impossible to deliver a comprehensive education because you have to cut programs, you have to cut staff at this point.”

When a student leaves the home district to attend a cyber charter, the home district must pay the charter school the full cost of educating the student, Sroka said. Money that is usually applied to everything from activities and athletics to maintaining the school district is no longer available.

“They're reaping all the benefits but not incurring any of the expense,” Sroka said of cyber charters, adding that there's little to hold these schools accountable for student performance and learning.

This puts small districts such as Jeannette in a bind. Sroka described the community as a depressed, industrial area with a limited tax base.

The board recently approved a 1-mill tax increase that Sroka said will not bring in more revenue because properties in the city have lost value. The proposed budget also includes 9.5 teacher furloughs. The district has 93 teaching positions.

The board voted to move about 160 seventh- and eighth-graders from McKee K-8 school to the senior high next year. It will save the district about $400,000.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2867, jmartines@tribweb.com or via Twitter at Jamie_Martines.

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