The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday to waive property taxes for Anchorage School District charter schools, an exemption already afforded to the district's neighborhood schools.
The change in municipal code will affect five charter schools currently renting or leasing space subject to property taxes, according to Andy Ratliff, acting executive director of the school district's Office of Management and Budget. Ratliff's count does not include charter schools currently looking for space or in the process of building, including the Rilke Schule German School of Arts and Sciences?.
In an interview Wednesday, Assembly chair Dick Traini, who co-sponsored the property tax ordinance, said, "We don't charge tax on our regular schools. Why should we charge tax on these other schools? They are regular schools after all."
House Bill 278, passed by the Alaska Legislature last session, allowed local governments to consider waiving property taxes for charter schools.
On Tuesday, Assembly members Bill Evans, Patrick Flynn and Bill Starr voted against the property tax exemption. Flynn said Wednesday he did not disagree with the "sentiment" of the exemption but would like to see public charter schools housed in public buildings. He worried the tax exemption would remove the urgency from the facilities issue.
"I think we need to do a better job of making public schools public," Flynn said at an Assembly meeting in January.
Unlike neighborhood schools, charter schools must pay for their facilities out of their operating budgets. ASD houses a few charter schools in district buildings, but most could not find district space to meet their needs and went to the private market.
Until Tuesday's ordinance, charter schools renting or leasing space also had to pay property taxes passed on by the owners of their buildings. Shanna Mall, principal at Winterberry Charter School, said last year her school paid about $40,000 in property taxes.
"That's almost three-fourths of a teacher," she said. About the exemption, she said, "It's huge."