TWIN FALLS • Xavier Charter School will remain open this school year, but the school board is working to find a longer-term solution to financial issues.
About 40 people attended a meeting Friday night to hear a financial update.
Board chairwoman Debbi Burr said the board negotiated down the school building lease price to a cap of $450,000 this fiscal year. The audience clapped in response.
“We needed to make sure we kept our doors open until at least the end of this (school) year,” she said.
There was a question about whether that would happen, she told meeting attendees.
Burr said the agreement fixes the financial problem until June 30, which is the end of the school’s fiscal year, but doesn’t address the future for the Twin Falls public charter school.
Xavier was originally slated to pay $809,000 in rent to Twin Falls School Development LLC this fiscal year.
But Burr said the school can’t afford to pay more than $450,000 per year on the school building on North College Road over the next decade.
Burr publicly thanked the school’s landlord Jed Stevenson, saying the school “would have been done” without the agreement over the lease amount.
As audience members listened to the financial update, rain water from a leaky section of the gym roof plopped into a few buckets on the floor.
Xavier’s lease agreement is set to run for 20 years, with a 1.5 percent increase in rent annually.
Burr said she thinks the intent among board members at the time it was signed was that they weren’t going to stay in a leasing arrangement for the long term.
This fiscal year, the school was set to pay $809,000 in rent. That’s 30 percent of Xavier’s operating budget.
The school board spent nine months looking at what the lease meant. The determination: The school is bound by the legal document.
Over the past three years, Xavier has seen funding drop by about $600,000, factoring in both state and federal funding cuts.
Burr said she doesn’t expect state funding for education to increase in the near future.
While Xavier has more flexibility with its curriculum and focus, the school can’t seek a supplemental levy to deal with the funding shortage like school districts can.
The State’s Decision
In September, Xavier received a notice of defect by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for “failure to demonstrate fiscal soundness.”
Although there were three items included in the notice, the main concern focused on the school building.
“It really boils down to the lease,” Burr said.
The commission will review Xavier’s corrective action plan during a Tuesday meeting in Boise.
Burr told meeting attendees that the school board will go to the meeting with their landlord. They plan to bring a memorandum of understanding related to this fiscal year’s building lease price.
Burr said she’s hopeful the commission will lift the notice of defect.
If Xavier moves forward with purchasing the school building, Burr said investors in bonds want to see the school is fiscally stable.
As for the coming months, Burr said she hopes the board will be able to bring a resolution to financial issues to stakeholders following a Feb. 14 charter school commission meeting.
She said it would be “odd” if the commission revoked the school’s charter. Burr said the commission has expressed willingness to work with Xavier and that the school is doing well academically.
The school board will continue to negotiate with the landlord over a possible purchase price for the school building.
Burr said the price the school put on the table was more than $5 million, but the landlord is asking for more.
Even though the school building isn’t perfect, Burr said owning it would allow for fundraising to customize it to meet the school’s needs.
Xavier teachers took a 10 percent pay cut this year and Burr said the decision was made in order to keep the school’s doors open.
Teachers were set to take a 10 percent pay cut last year. But $150,000 in unexpected state funding came in and was distributed to teachers, Burr said.
She said she wants to see the school be able to attract and retain quality employees.
Teacher Jolynn Heiner said she has taught for three years at Xavier and it has been wonderful, but there has been uncertainty during that time about the school’s operations and teachers can barely make a living.
Either things stabilize at the school, she said, or the dilemma is whether to leave to teach at another school.