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Anchorage School Board approves 2 resolutions aimed at helping charter schools

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published December 15, 2014

The Anchorage School Board approved two resolutions late Monday aimed at helping charter schools in their challenges acquiring facilities.

In a 4-3 vote, the board OK'd a lease for Rilke Schule German School of Arts and Sciences that would allow the public charter school to move into a new building big enough to house all its roughly 440 students, who are now split among a church, six portable classrooms and a neighborhood elementary school.

The lease included a $2 million advance from the Anchorage School District, which Rilke Schule would repay over 20 years at roughly $116,491 annually, according to the memorandum of understanding.

Board members Kameron Perez-Verdia, Bettye Davis and Pat Higgins voted against the resolution, while Eric Croft, Natasha von Imhof, Kathleen Plunkett and Tam Agosti-Gisler voted for it.

Before the vote, the board heard public testimony for and against the lease. Some said Rilke Schule's Academic Policy Committee, or elected governing body, had not been transparent in the building process, and they worried the school could not afford a new building. Others stressed the immediacy of Rilke Schule's need, with the lease on its current facility scheduled to expire this summer.

Perez-Verdia, in his comments to the board, said he would not vote for the resolution Monday because he did not support the advance included in the lease.

"The lease is not the challenge that I have, it's the fact that we are spending our incredibly limited operating funds to grant a loan," he said. "I can only imagine how many schools in the Anchorage School District would love a $2 million loan."

Von Imhof originally proposed a resolution separate from the lease that would have provided Rilke Schule with a $2 million long-term loan, to make payments more affordable. By Monday, that resolution had been absorbed into the lease.

Ed Graff, the district's superintendent, said that for weeks, the charter school, district and School Board had been in discussions on how to address Rilke Schule's facility issue.

"We didn't get here overnight," he said.

Rilke Schule's Academic Policy Committee, or APC, will have to approve the lease before plans move forward on a new building. Kjerstin Lastufka, the committee's vice chair, said she expects the group to meet this week to vote on the lease, though by Tuesday a date had not yet been set.

"Back in October the APC had sent a draft lease to the district to say, 'This is our starting point. We're hoping to build buildings. Help us meet your specifications,' " Lastufka said. "We now have this lease and we need to regroup."

Lastufka said the committee will host two town hall meetings in 2015 to update parents on the school's facility situation. The committee has scheduled one for Jan. 5 and the other on Feb. 2; both will start at 6 p.m., she said.

In a second vote Monday, the School Board also approved the creation of a Charter School Facility Fund, which created a pool of money -- drawn from the district's unassigned fund balance -- that charter schools could dip into to help cover building costs.

Originally the resolution, proposed by von Imhof, listed the fund at $5 million. On Monday, the resolution read $5.5 million to reflect a school-size formula calculation, von Imhof said.

The School Board voted to amend the resolution, lowering the amount to $1 million. The board also changed the term "loan" to "advance" and set a sunset date on the fund for June 1, 2016.

"In order to build consensus, oftentimes there is compromise," von Imhof said Tuesday. "I am very pleased that it passed."

Higgins and Perez-Verdia voted against the amended resolution.

Von Imhof said Tuesday the first charter school that comes forward with a plan can begin using the Charter School Facility Fund.