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North Star Charter Appeals Meridian's Move To Close It

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Idaho's largest school district, Meridian, wants to revoke the charter of North Star Charter School in Eagle. North Star has filed an appeal to Idaho's State Board of Education according to Idaho Education News.

Meridian board members say the school is not financially secure and risks closing in the middle of the 2013/2014 school year. If that happened most of North Star’s 900 students would then go to Meridian schools. North Star students would also go to Meridian schools if the charter is revoked but the influx would happen earlier in the year.

Last week we told you that the closure’s timing would matter a lot to Meridian. If it closes before November the district gets all the state money that comes with each student. The later in the year, the less money Meridian gets.    

The Idaho Department of Education points out Idaho Code 33-1023  is intended to mitigate the potential burden to a district of a charter school that closes. That law gives money to a school for students coming from a closed charter including money for teacher salaries and benefits missed in the first scheduled payment of the year.  The money is prorated from the day the student enrolls at the new school and comes in the next scheduled state payment.

So, while true that a closure later in the year would mean less money for Meridian, the district would get a good deal more than if the influx were from ordinary transfers.

Meridian district spokesman Eric Exline says code 33-1023 would certainly ease the blow from a mid-year closure at North Star, but he says it doesn’t change what he told us last week that such a closure would strain the district’s resources.

“Say you had a big influx of kids at a particular elementary school which puts your fifth grade classes at 35 or 36 students or some number considerably over that,” Exline says. “So now we’re going to have to hire another teacher and then reconfigure those classes. We’re going to have to shuffle kids around.”

He says there would be many difficulties, financial and otherwise, with the kind of increase in students that would come if North Star closes. The school's appeal to the state board says Meridian is motivated to close the school early because the district could experience "significant financial detriment" if a mid-year closure were to occur.

Though a mid-year closure might be a burden to Meridian, Exline says there is no financial advantage to the district if North Star closes early in the year. Meridian would get all the state money that comes with each student but it would also have the expenses that come with the students.

Some critics accuse the Meridian School District of trying to close North Star to use the influx of students to trigger an emergency levy.  That type of levy allows districts to get local tax payer money without voter approval if the district has more students at the start of the school year than it could have anticipated. North Star's appeal also accuses the district of seeking financial advantage from closing the school including from an emergency levy.

Exline says the district’s attempt to revoke North Star’s charter has nothing to do with emergency levy funding. Emergency levies, he says are only for unexpected students who arrive before the second week of September. North Star will be open at the start of the school year. Even if the school loses its charter it is likely to remain open well into the fall.

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