REDMOND — Redmond School Board members have rejected an application by a Montessori charter school as incomplete.
Supporters of Desert Sky Montessori School attended the meeting Wednesday, where Lauren Lester, a lawyer with the High Desert Education Service District and representative for Redmond School District, recommended the board vote that the application was incomplete. This came after news last week that the charter school had withdrawn its application with Bend-La Pine Schools, when the superintendent there said he would not recommend it. Neither decision has discouraged supporters of the charter school.
“The Desert Sky folks obviously worked really hard on this,” Lester said at the Redmond board meeting, before explaining why she believed the application was incomplete.
The majority of reasons she found were financial, but she also said the enrollment projections were “ambitious.”
“(Our fiscal services) staff took a really close look at the budget and just had a number of concerns regarding the financial soundness,” Lester said.
For example, the budget proposed an average of $41,786 for a teacher salary. However, a new hire in the Redmond district for the 2015-16 school year had an average salary of $49,346, and the average salary of all Redmond district teachers in 2015-16 was about $58,600, Lester said.
“So only four percent of teachers employed in the district are paid an amount equal or less than the average assumed by Desert Sky,” Lester said.
The Desert Sky budget projected health insurance costs at less than half of what they actually are. Lester explained there also weren’t enough details about the food service budget, and the cost of an Internet provider and technology staff weren’t shown in the plan.
“Desert Sky’s budget as proposed depends upon fundraising revenues and Desert Sky proposes fundraising revenues of $75,000 in year one, and $125,000 in years two and three,” Lester said.
By comparison, Tumalo Community School’s fundraisers, which have the high fundraising record per capita in the school district, brought in $60,000 with two of its events last year. Lester added that in most cases, donations and contributions support “supplemental activities” like sports and field trips, but in Desert Sky’s case, the core operational budget relies on fundraising. Lester recommended the board deem the application incomplete.
Superintendent Mike McIntosh said he couldn’t make a recommendation, but wanted to lay out the facts: The idea behind the Montessori school is there, he said, but the budget is not.
“I know it’s a disappointing result to Desert Sky,” A.J. Losoya, a board member, said before the decision was made. He explained as someone with a career in banking, he could not separate the idea behind the school from its financials.
“At the end of the day, before I feel that I can look at qualitative, it needs to be strong fiscally first,” Losoya said. “So my recommendation would be to deem it incomplete and that without a strong financial foundation, it’s not something that I can support.”
Board member Shawn Hartfield agreed with Losoya, citing her past experience with private schools.
“I would say my involvement with other schools that are private and looking at their budgets and their fundraising I do see some big holes in these estimates, especially for this area,” Hartfield said.
Losoya made a formal motion to designate the document incomplete, which carried unanimously.
Chairman Rick Bailey, who helped found a private school, said he realizes the stress that comes with it.
“I want to commend everyone for their passion and perseverance in this,” Bailey said. “This isn’t the end of the road, there are options.”
During a short break following the decision, many of those from the Desert Sky group chatted with Superintendent McIntosh, and he encouraged them.
Thursday, Shelly Phillips, co-president of the Desert Sky board, said the charter school will submit additional material to the RSD board within the next 30 days.
“We’ve already been talking about the possibility of starting smaller,” Phillips said. “Some of the budget changes they were suggesting, we’re on it.”
One example, Phillips said, would be making the estimate for fundraising more within reach. As for still trying to open for the 2016-17 school year, Phillips said Desert Sky still sees that doable.
“We are very hopeful that that can be the case,” she said.
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