TCCS Could Take Hit

While school districts largely saw increases in the state budget approved earlier this year, a provision in the budget could cost Tidioute Community Charter School over $300,000 over the next year.

An email sent to all charter school chief educational officers dated Sept. 2 from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, and provided to the Times Observer by TCCS CEO Dr. Doug Allen, explains that the “Governor’s Budget Office has informed PSERS (Public School Employees Retirement System) that charter schools will no longer receive PSERS reimbursements as of July 1, 2014. This means that the elimination of the charter reimbursement is being applied retroactively to charter school 2013-2014 pension obligations incurred but not yet paid.”

Referred to by opponents as a “double dip,” payments from school districts to charter schools are required to include the entirety of a charter school’s pension obligations. While charter schools and school districts have been receiving 50 percent reimbursment from the state for pension costs for years, this has resulted in charters being paid twice for their pension costs once by the district and once by the state.

“The Pa. charter law requires that employees or at least certificated employee benefits are to be equal or better, but not less than, the chartering district’s employee benefits,” Allen said in an email on Tuesday. “Participation in state retirement, PSERS, is required of charter schools and I am happy we are required. But all 500 districts receive PSERS reimbursement for Board contributions to PSERS. It is not equal that as of July, Pa. charter schools will no longer receive the state reimbursement for PSERS contributions by the board.

“After nearly 17 years of charter school in Pa., we are only now deciding that state reimbusements for local Boards PSERS is in the formula,” he continued. “That seems strange to me after 17 years.”

Allen said that TCCS stands to lose about $90,000 now and $250,000 in 2014-2015.

And he doesn’t understand the reason for the change when charter schools provide a similar program to public schools.

“To me charter schools like TCCS usually offer the exact programs in a unique way that public schools do so why fund them, the charter schools, less,” he said. “The funding formula now provides about 80 percent of the sending district’s cost per student so we operate currently 20 percent less than the chartering district on a per child basis.”

And he has seen a concerted effort to chop away at charter funding through the years.

“We serve about 300 students, follow most all school code, PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) regulations are audited exactly as are public schools,” he said, “but our funding seems to be a target of legislators annually.”

In spite of the cuts, Allen does not see programming being affected at TCCS at this time.

“We will not decrease services this year,” he said.