District renews contract with charter school

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PONDERAY — After struggling to stay within the school’s revenue in the past, Forrest Bird Charter School officials had a goal, one which they reached as they had $832,000 in the fund balance by the end of last school year.

“We have enough money in our fund balance to operate for a year, and that was our goal,” said Mary Jensen, charter administrator for FBCS.

FBCS was chartered by the Lake Pend Oreille School District in 2001, and school officials continue to report to the LPOSD board of trustees each year. The annual reports provide the performance framework necessary for LPOSD officials to decide whether to renew the contract with FBCS or not.

Jensen, along with FBCS Principal Jennifer Greve, reported to the board during the district’s annual meeting on Tuesday, discussing student achievement, the annual auditor’s report, student enrollment and more.

The revenue for FBCS comes primarily from the state at 93.37 percent, as well as 6-percent federal funding. The school also gets some small local donations, Jensen said, noting that, contrary to rumors, the Forrest Bird Foundation does not contribute to the school. The school cannot levy or bond, she said.

“There have been years in the past where we were spending more money than we had,” Jensen said, adding that school officials worked “very hard” to turn that around. “So we have very good audit reports; there are no notes of growing concern.”

Jensen said they did have a dip in enrollment, from 343 last year to 327 this year. This was done on purpose, however, because Jensen said the school facilities couldn’t handle the growth that was occurring. The school aims to have 20 students or less in each classroom, and the growth was exceeding those numbers, she said.

The graduation rate for 2016-17 was steady at 70.6 percent, Jensen said, though last year it dipped to 65.5 percent.

“Because we are such a small school, that’s one student,” Jensen clarified of the 5 percent deviation.

Because of how the numbers are reported, last year’s graduation rate is actually from the class of 2017. After recently finishing the graduation rate appeals for the class of 2018, Jensen said they will be sitting at 84 percent this year. Also last year, several students graduated with associate degrees from North Idaho College a month before walking with their class at FBCS to receive their high school diplomas.

As Greve took over the presentation, she said that the state put into code that there was a need to do a more formalized system for the accountability between charters and their authorizers in Idaho. The first one came out three years ago, and at the time had a choice of whether to extend the contract three or five years. FBCS and LPOSD decided to do a three-year contract.

“That’s what made everybody most comfortable, because it was new and we didn’t really understand it,” Greve said. “We were trying to work with it and figure out what was going to be best for our community.”

Since then, Greves said, the relationship between LPOSD and FBCS has grown, and while FBCS officials had thought about changing authorizers at one time, they ultimately decided to “stay local” rather than go to the commission in Boise. Jensen said the district and the charter have become partners and collaborators as well.

Greve asked the board to consider a five-year renewal, to which they unanimously voted in approval. FBCS officials will continue to give annual reports to the board as well.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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