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Budget concerns for charter schools being ironed-out

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The Guam Education Board and Guam Charter Schools Council are working to iron out concerns raised over their combined $240 million budget and the impacts on public school funding.

"This is a red flag for us," noted Mark Mendiola, as the Guam Education Board budget and finance chair said as much regarding issues over the financial sustainability of charter schools and the potential impact to DOE. He along with the board and superintendent Jon Fernandez met with charter council chair Amanda Blas on Friday.

"We have some concerns...as you know, the funding for the charter schools comes out of DOE," said board chair Maria Guiterrez. She added that with over $8 million going to charter schools every year, accountability needs to be prioritized. "We're basically reviewing their purchases, and you know we're flagging a lot of stuff and when we flag these items, how do we hold them accountable?"she said.

Meanwhile, DOE superintendent Jon Fernandez and member James Lujan voiced concerns over the number of charter students being funding, given the low loss of enrollment at DOE. "It's very clear that the charter schools are getting students, maybe some from DOE, but maybe some from outside, the private schools or the school system, but all the resources are coming from DOE," he said.

Lujan added, "I don't think the senators realize that they may be putting their foot in their mouth if they have too many charter schools, because they're guaranteeing funding, they can't even guarantee the public school their funding."

Meanwhile concerns over long-term budget impacts were also raised, with Mendiola saying, "And in addition to that, if the charter schools let's say for example open up, and that $6,500, and say they are going to buy a building, and then ten years from now it's a losing venture, we're going to shut down, who owns those properties? Does that belong to the Government of Guam or does that belong to DOE?"

Both the board and council shared ideas over possible solutions, including tracking student enrollment, providing greater staff support to the charter council, putting accountability mechanisms in place and amending the charter school law to separate charter and public school budgets altogether.

We should note senator San Agustin has introduced legislation aimed at amending the charter law, which addresses some but not all of the concerns raised at today's meeting.

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