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Board critiques inflated charter school budget

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - First day jitters may be over and classes may be in session, but the island's first charter school will have to defend their Fiscal Year 2014 budget request to keep doors open next school year as education officials critique their inflated numbers.

The Guam Education Board may have officially reviewed the Guahan Academy Charter School budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 and transmitted it forward to the Guam Legislature, but not before expressing concerns at last night's special meeting.

Among their concerns, the cost per pupil as the $4 million request equates to over $8,100 per student for the 500 students enrolled this school year and over $7,800 per student for the 520 students anticipated next school year - both figures exceeding the recommended $5,500 per pupil and the cost per pupil at a DOE public school.

But it's not just more money per student GACS is requesting. In a side-by-side comparison of the charter school's requested budget with four DOE public schools with similar enrollment, each public school operated with roughly 40 employees and the charter requesting double that.

With no charter school officials present to answer questions, GEB member Barry Mead made an early motion to moot the request as it was submitted late and failed to be presented before lawmakers alongside doe's budget request late last month.

In addition, he questioned the budget's inconsistent figures.

"They don't even show up to answer questions that the board may ask they did not accept the invitation to the board work session to try and work out these problems," he told KUAM News. In this budget the principal is being paid $80,000 a year. On another page, that same principal is being paid $70,000 a year."

GEB chairman Dr. Jose Cruz further questioned the GACS enrollment and how many students have never been enrolled in a DOE school as the number could directly deduct from the amount of per pupil funding available for students at traditional public schools.

But it doesn't stop there as the unchartered territory also brings to light issues with special education programs, teachers who have switched employment from public school to charter school, and the food services contract. "We contracted Sodexo and Sodexo is obligated to feed those students who are registered with us. These other students who are hybrid - they're part Department of Education, they're part private, that we don't have the responsibility to sort that out. That's the responsibility of the charter school," he said.

Meanwhile, GACS spokesperson Therese Arroyo Matanane tells KUAM News the transmitted budget was misinterpreted as the $4 million figure accounts for a projected growth of up to 500 students for School Year 2014-2015. That equates to $6,600 per pupil.

Matanane says she is working with Senator Aline Yamashita's office to correct the issue. Yamashita tells KUAM that she along with committee chair on education Speaker Judi Won Pat remain committed to the charter school initiative. Although she doesn't know when session will resume for the budget, the charter school budget will be addressed.

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