Non-profit moves to Boise to build charters

A nonprofit organization that helps charter schools receive loans for facilities has set up shop in Idaho.

Building Hope launched in 2003 and has largely worked with charters in Washington, D.C. and Florida, helping secure more than $140 million in loans and guarantees that support more than $850 million of construction costs for public charter school facilities.

Building Hope plans to have two full-time employees in Idaho, to manage loans and construction.

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S. Joe Bruno

“We lend to high-quality schools to support their expansion so they have the capacity to grow their enrollments,” Building Hope president S. Joe Bruno said.

Because Building Hope is a nonprofit corporation so it could have access to lower cost funds that aren’t available to normal lenders, and could then make those funds available to charters at lower interest rates. The loans are repaid over time by the state’s per-pupil funding, and if the loans allow the schools to expand, they can collect increased state money.

Bruno says he has already spoken with at least four Idaho charters about financing and expansion opportunities: Sage International in Boise, Anser Charter School in Garden City, Idaho Arts Charter in Nampa and the cash-strapped North Star Charter School in Eagle.

This summer, the Meridian School District started steps to revoke North Star’s charter because of high debt. North Star amended its financial plan so the School Board dropped its revocation plans. North Star earned a state ranking of “four” on Idaho’s five-star scale and was named one of Idaho’s “most challenging” schools by the Washington Post.

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Bruno said he might be able to help North Star in restructuring its debt. “We’re here to help high-performing schools focus on teaching and learning rather than get distracted by financial issues,” he said.

As for the other charters, Bruno’s first visits were to “find an appetite and need” for expansion. For example, Sage International School is “a good school with cramped quarters” and should be expanded so more students can attend, Bruno said. Sage also is a four-star school and like many charters, has a waiting list to get in.

Building Hope was established in 2003 with a $28 million grant from The Sallie Mae Fund and a $2 million federal appropriation.

Building Hope also is involved in managing new construction incubator projects through the Charter School Incubator Initiative (CSII), part of a public-private partnership with the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Bruno was a successful accounting executive before taking the lead role with Building Hope. He said he will remain based in Washington, D.C., but he anticipates visiting Idaho often in the coming months.

“Schools should educate — I’m helping run the back office business operations,” Bruno said.

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