Funds Found for New Charters

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

The District will use a $7.5 million education reserve fund to pay for the seven former Catholic schools slated to reopen as secular charter schools next month, and it will be able to find more money if necessary, officials said this week.

The D.C. Council allocated $366 million in May for 63 charter schools as part of its fiscal 2009 budget. Financing for the Center City Public Charter Schools was omitted, officials said, because Center City's application was not approved by the charter school board until June 16.

The Catholic school conversions are unusual, they said, because most charters spend 12 to 15 months between approval and opening to find buildings and staff. Center City's seven campuses are ready to accept students.

The city missed its first quarterly payment to Center City -- due July 15 under District law. The next installment is due in October.

Center City is estimating enrollment at 1,255, higher than the 1,094 originally forecast. It will operate on the sites of former parochial schools in Congress Heights (formerly Assumption), Capitol Hill (Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian), Trinidad (Holy Name), Shaw (Immaculate Conception), Brentwood (St. Francis de Sales), Petworth (St. Gabriel's) and Brightwood (Nativity).

Estimates of how much the schools will cost the city range from $7 million to $16 million. The District is expected to tap a $7.5 million reserve fund designed to cover fluctuations in the city's student population. Should that not be enough, officials said, they would draw on surpluses that might become available after the city's charter school enrollment is audited in the fall. Charter enrollment generally comes in below estimates.

Still unknown are how many Center City students will be new to the District and how many will transfer from traditional public or public charter schools. For those already in the system, funding will be largely in place through the per-pupil formula.

If surpluses do not occur or if more funds are needed, the city will find the money, said David Umansky, a spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. "Until we receive specific numbers about the enrollment of charter schools, we cannot make a determination of where the money will come from," Umansky said. "But the CFO is confident that he will be able to identify the funds."

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