JEROME — Heritage Academy in Jerome is debt free after paying off its $350,000 mortgage last week.
The public charter school — which opened in 2011 and has 175 students in kindergarten through eighth grades — is now starting improvements on its 90-year-old campus on South Lincoln Avenue.
Paying off a school mortgage is big feat, especially in just six years. Unlike traditional public schools in Idaho, charter schools like Heritage Academy can’t bring a bond or levy measure to voters for facility needs. It means schools are left to set aside money from their general operating budgets or hold large fundraisers.
“The goal was to pay it off as quickly as possible,” Superintendent Christine Ivie said about the school’s mortgage. “We’ve just always budgeted conservatively and made it a priority to pay as much as we could on the mortgage so we could be debt free.”
Now, Heritage Academy is pursuing building repairs and renovations and hopes to devote more funding to supporting students.
Under a three-year facility plan, the school started work this summer to improve its 21,000-square-foot building.
There’s a long list, which includes painting, re-texturing and repairing walls, repairing and replacing flooring and concrete steps, plumbing upgrades, replacing windows and repairing door hinges.
And thanks to support from eighth-graders, fundraisers and school funding, playground equipment will be installed this week.
Heritage Academy’s school building was originally owned by the Jerome School District. Heritage bought the school campus in 2011 from the most recent occupant, Magic Valley Christian School, a private school that closed in January 2011 after enrollment and donations declined.
The building purchase price included desks and supplies from the old school.
“It’s exciting to be using an old building that has a lot of sentimental value in the Jerome community, and to be renovating and repairing it,” Ivie said, so it’s more welcoming for students.
Finances — and especially, paying for a school building — are often a major hurdle for Idaho’s charter schools. Tamara Baysinger, executive director of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, wasn’t available to provide information Monday.
Wings Charter Middle School in Twin Falls closed in 2014 after struggling with shrinking funds and dwindling enrollment. It voluntarily relinquished its charter.
In 2012, another Twin Falls charter school, Xavier Charter School, received a notice of defect from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for “failure to demonstrate financial soundness.” The school nearly closed after struggling with high rent costs.
But things turned around. The school reached an agreement in February 2013 with its landlord, cutting rent payments nearly in half, and keeping the doors open. In April 2015, the school’s board finalized a deal to buy its building for $6.5 million.
Now, the school is moving forward with planning for the future. More than a year ago, Xavier started a Phoenix Fund to help raise money for a building expansion project.