Charter commission delays North Star decision

The relationship between the West Ada School District and North Star Charter became so “dysfunctional” that administrators have asked the Public Charter School Commission to transfer North Star’s petition from the district to the commission.

Idaho public charter schools can be authorized by a local school board or by the commission. Oversight of a public charter school resides with the authorizer of that school. The commission oversees 30 other charter schools.

The 10 commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting unanimously agreed to delay a decision on a transfer. North Star was asked to fulfill some administrative requests in its petition, most importantly putting financial records into different templates, and that could take a couple of weeks.

“It became a dysfunctional relationship,” North Star vice-chair Bill Russell testified when asked why the charter wanted a transfer. “This is the better way forward for this school — less drama and less distractions.”

West Ada district officials have agreed to the transfer. (West Ada is formerly known as Meridian).

“It started with them saying we’d really like you to transfer and we said we’re happy to,” Russell said. “The financial stress and a mistake in the process of revocation made us two organizations that need to be apart.”

North Star recently survived a near closure and restructuring of millions in debt.

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The charter school has some of the best academic results in the state — but a $12 million building loan had left the school at risk of a shutdown and at one point, the district threatened to revoke its charter.

A June restructuring of a school bond reduced loan payments and pushed out much of the school’s debt for decades. The school is still on the hook to pay $487,000 a year in bond payments. But before the restructuring, North Star was paying about $1.2 million in annual payments, under a financing deal signed in 2009 when the national economy was struggling.

“It is completely resolved,” Russell told commissioners about the debt. “This budget has gone through more work and more scrutiny than any other budget I’ve ever worked on.”

Russell also told commissioners North Star plans to hire a full-time fundraiser.

North Star could next appear before the commissioners at their regularly scheduled Oct. 9 meeting.

Commissioner Tamara Baysinnger said there are a “fairly small number of items that need to be addressed” to revise the petition and commissioner Alan Reed told North Star officials “we look forward to having you back at our next meeting.”

Despite its financial and governance issues, North Star made the Washington Post’s 2014 list of America’s most challenging high schools — based on the number of students enrolled in programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaurate. North Star received four stars on the state’s five-star rating system, and boasted an 80 percent go-on rate in 2012.  The Idaho average go-on rate is 54 percent. North Star has 1,016 students registered for school. (For more statistics, check our Idaho Ed Trends site.)

North Star by the numbers

 

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