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Report: Charter schools struggle to pay for inadequate facilities

  • PACE Career Academy, a chartered high school, rents space at the Suncook Business Park on Pinewood Drive in Allenstown. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • PACE Career Academy Director Martin Castle said it’€™s getting ‘tougher and tougher’ to pay for facilities. The school doesn’t just have to pay rent, Castle said, it also has to contend with mandates from the state ‘€“like installing key-card readers’ without extra help. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Paraprofessional Vincent Rappa unlocks a door at the PACA Career Academy facility in Allenstown. The school doesn’€™t just have to pay rent, it also has to contend with mandates from the state “‘like installing key-card readers’ without extra help. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Paraprofessional Vincent Rappa unlocks a door at the PACA Career Academy facility in Allenstown.The school doesn’€™t just have to pay rent, it also has to contend with mandates from the state – like installing key-card readers€“ without extra help. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • PACE Career Academy paraprofessional Vincent Rappa stands in the door of a storage room stuffed with holiday ornaments at the school in Allenstown. The building needs a lot of work. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Teacher David Kelly helps student Lindsay Lavigne install software on a computer at the PACE Career Academy in Allenstown of Friday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • A multi-use room at the PACE Career Academy in Allenstown where besides as a classroom, the room serves space for three teachers areas. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Student Caitlin Porter works on her online studies in the back of a classroom that also serves as teacher offices at the PACE Career Academy in Allenstown on Friday, March 16, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Students Sebastian Chamberlin and Kristy Colorusso listen in class in a multiuse room where three teachers also have their work areas at the PACE Career Academy in Allenstown on Friday, March 16, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, March 16, 2018

Unlike traditional schools, PACE Career Academy, a charter high school in Allenstown, doesn’t have a prep kitchen, a band room, or athletic fields. Instead, it rents space at the Suncook Business Park in Allenstown, and makes do with reworked office spaces. For charter schools in New Hampshire, that’s the norm.

It’s getting “tougher and tougher” to pay for facilities, PACE Director Martin Castle said. The school doesn’t just have to pay rent, Castle said, it also has to contend with mandates from the state – like installing key-card readers – without extra help.

A new report finds the Granite State’s charter schools struggle to pay for facilities and often rely on inadequate spaces.

As a district-chartered school, PACE is in better financial shape than a lot of charters because it gets tuition dollars from some area districts, and doesn’t rely entirely on state aid and fundraising. But Castle said there are plenty of things the school, which serves mostly at-risk students, wishes it could spend money on besides the roof over its head.

“The biggest thing that we would do is have a mental health counselor,” he said.

On average, the state’s charters spent $794 per pupil, or about 12 percent of their state funding, on facilities, according to the analysis, released by the National Charter School Resource Center’s Charter School Facilities Initiative, a U.S. Department Education-funded project. Meanwhile, a majority rented spaces in buildings not originally intended to be schools that generally lacked a preparatory kitchen, dedicated media center, and gym.

The study’s conclusions were based on surveys administered to all 24 of the state’s brick-and-mortar charter schools.

The report found big differences in facility costs based on landlords. Charters renting from for-profit entities spent an average $987 per-pupil, while those renting from nonprofits spent $619 per-pupil. Those lucky enough to find space through a local school district spent the least, for an average of $383 per student. Sixty-three percent – or 15 of 24 charters – rented from for-profit entities.

Half of schools surveyed didn’t have a dedicated lunch or art room. Over seventy percent didn’t have a music room, media center, gym, or athletic fields.

Matt Southerton, the President of the New Hampshire Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said it’s because the state never invested in the infrastructure of charters – while also restricting their ability to borrow – that schools find themselves in this position.

“They didn’t provide any funding for a facility, and they didn’t allow you to finance a facility, so you basically had try and find facility space that would work for the school, and unfortunately too often that has been in a commercial market,” he said.

Both Southerton and the report recommend finding ways to get charter schools better access to underutilized district space. Sometimes, Southerton said, districts see charters as competitors, and aren’t willing to have those conversations.

PACE is one of the few charter schools that was actually founded by a local district – Pembroke – and the two have a collaborative relationship. Castle said PACE briefly saw an opportunity in the Village school, an elementary school Pembroke is working toward closing. But the Village school needs millions in repairs – money PACE doesn’t have.

“It’s too much,” he said.

The report also recommends exempting charters from taxes district schools don’t pay, state funding and loans for facilities, and right of first refusal to purchase or lease a closed, unused, or underused public school property.

State lawmakers are considering one piece of legislation that could help, Southerton said. House Bill 1228 would get rid of the prohibition in state law against charter incurring long-term debt within the first five years. It’s passed the House and is in the Senate.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)