A public charter school’s funding is based on the number of students who attend the school and the programs offered. Each student’s home school administrative unit transfers a per-pupil allocation (EPS) to the charter school, but with startups like HCA, schools don’t receive their initial EPS allocations until the summer prior to opening. For most of the past 15 years, public charter schools qualified for nearly automatic federal start-up grants ranging from $180-300,000, to fund this expense gap, including hiring a head of school (often a year in advance) and teachers for the summer prior to opening. With startups, all the other things that a traditional school can count on being in place when the doors open in September, have to be created from scratch – including finding doors to open! Charter schools typically have to locate and renovate space; outfit the space for learning, lunch, and athletics; acquire old fashioned things like books and new-fangled things like laptops, develop its website, provide a transportation plan, and engage the community. HCA is no different.
And since most start-up charters start with one or two grades and add more students for each of the first 3-4 years, some of those costs recur each year. Add to that, the fact that a public charter school’s overall student numbers, and therefore our budgets, can be quite low at the beginning. For HCA, Year 1: 60 students/ $450-500,000, but our staffing cost, just in terms of the numbers of different qualified roles we need, will be high. All of these costs are eventually spread out over the large number of students, but at first, it can be quite daunting. And on top of that, we’re generally educating each student with $2,000-5,000 less per student than traditional public schools. Well…you can see the challenge.
For several reasons, most Maine public charter schools do not have access to that “automatic” federal money. At HCA, we actually think that’s a good thing. HCA is being built on the foundation of community support, one member at a time. Anyone who was at the Cundy’s Harbor Community Center Charter Commission public hearing could see the genuine power of a community coming together to support something that can make a difference for the next generation. The State Charter Commission certainly saw it, citing not just the numbers, but also the range of ages, occupations, and geographic and cultural backgrounds, as one of several clear signs that HCA’s application was worthy.
Before we open the doors in September, HCA’s planning and startup costs will approximate $135,000. We have already raised $63,000 from the generous donations of Midcoast community members and are actively seeking additional contributions to pay for our planning costs prior to receiving the EPS allocation from the sending school districts in July. Donors with gifts of $500 or greater will be recognized as HCA Founders in all of our printed and online materials. However, gifts of all sizes are appreciated.
One final note. It is not our intention to develop a model that needs regular large infusions of outside money year after year. Once our community has made that investment, HCA will be here, will be sustainably funded as a public school in Maine, and will demonstrate what Mainers have always been good at: that we can do more with less.
Until then, though…well, we may be required to purchase a Maine-certified school bus, and $90,000 dollars takes a pretty big bite out of a $500,000 budget.
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING THE SCHOOL, THE STUDENTS AND YOUR COMMUNITY.
For more information about how to donate: www.harpswellcoastalacademy.org/get-involved