Schenectady County

Charter school wants withheld funds

The International Charter School of Schenectady is attempting to obtain nearly $900,000 in student a
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The International Charter School of Schenectady is attempting to obtain nearly $900,000 in student aid it says the city school district has withheld, before the school closes at the end of June.

The SUNY Board of Trustees voted earlier this month to shut down the ICSS because of poor academic performance.

Parents and staff of the school were told at the board meeting Monday that student enrollment has dropped and some staff have begun to leave school, in the aftermath of the decision to close.

Business Manager Lori Veshia told the ICSS Board of Trustees on Monday that the school has filed an “intercept” with the state Education Department to get the roughly $887,000 the Schenectady School District owes. Schenectady pays roughly $9,500 per year for every student at the school.

Veshia said these funds are crucial to maintain cash flow.

“Provided that we get the money from Schenectady that we planned for and budgeted for, we should be fine to finish out the school year,” she said.

This is the second such intercept ICSS filed this school year. In January, the Education Department sent ICSS $740,000 to cover missed Schenectady payments.

Schenectady Superintendent Eric Ely said previously that he did not send payment to the charter school because it did not provide him proper documentation of residency for enrolled students. Most of the charter school students are transfers from the city district.

Veshia said the charter school still lacks proof of residency for about 20 students. “We’re as close as we’re going to get without hunting the people down and going to people’s house and taking a [utility] bill,” she said.

The school has already been making adjustments to the budget. Board President Tracy Petersen said that two weeks ago the school dismissed Geraldine Wolfe, who was hired in January as a consultant, as a cost-saving measure.

“Her services were no longer necessary after we were notified that the school would close,” she said.

In another cost-cutting move, Veshia said, she told the school’s contractor a few weeks ago to stop all work on construction projects, including a new playground and controls for an electrical system.

The board also discussed its closure plan with representatives from the Charter Schools Institute for about two hours in executive session. Afterward, Petersen said the board has put $75,000 into an escrow account to handle attorney and closing fees.

She added that a special closure committee consisting of herself, Veshia, board member Sheridan Biggs and Acting Director Shirley Reed has been formed to handle closure issues including an inventory of the assets, payments to creditors and contractors.

ICSS officials have not yet made a decision on what to do with the former Draper School. It may revert to the bank, First Niagara.

Charter school officials continue to explore options. Petersen added that the ICSS corporation would continue to exist long after the closure of the actual school.

LOSSES GROW

In other business, Reed said the school has lost some students to the Schenectady district and picked up a few new ones. Enrollment stands at 557, down from 573 earlier in the month.

Reed said some staff have already started to leave. A special education aide resigned last week. Some teachers are taking half-days to look for other jobs. “We’re having a lot of absenteeism,” she said.

They are using academic intervention staff as substitutes. They are not allowed to use BOCES staff because they are a charter school.

On Wednesday, the school will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium to allow parents of ICSS students to meet with representatives from other charter, private and parochial schools.

Veshia said the charter school does plan to set up another meeting to let parents know about Schenectady schools at a later date.

Reed also updated the board on preliminary scores from the state math test. About 69 percent of third-graders showed proficiency. This is up from 43 percent who took a mock test in January. The result for fourth-graders was 71 percent, up from 33 percent in a mock exam; and for fifth-graders, 63 percent, up from 24 percent in a mock test.

Data for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade is not available.

Though too late to have any effect on the school’s future, the results pleased board members.

“If this plays out, with the actual test scores, we’ll be closing the best elementary school in Schenectady,” Petersen said.

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