The three charter schools in Lafayette Parish anticipate full classrooms next month when the new academic year begins.
The schools, overseen by local board members and operated by charter school management companies, opened last year and attracted about 1,500 students. Though the schools are able to enroll students from outside the parish, the majority of their students live within its borders.
Willow Charter Academy, managed by Michigan-based National Heritage Academies, plans to enroll 574 students and has a waiting list for some grade levels. The school has proposed a $6 million budget for its 2015-16 operations.
The two other charter schools in the parish are managed by a Florida-based company, Charter Schools USA. Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy is just a short drive from Willow Charter and last year enrolled 528 students. In the fall, the school plans to enroll 687 students and projects a $7.3 million operating budget — up from last year’s actual 2014-15 budget of $5.6 million.
At the beginning of the school year, Lafayette Renaissance’s initial budget was $7.1 million but was adjusted based on enrollments and actual expenses. Lafayette Renaissance’s enrollment is lower than its sister school, Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Youngsville.
Acadiana Renaissance enrolled 673 students in the first year and this year anticipates 780 students with an $8.1 million budget — up from last year’s actual budget of $7.1 million. Acadiana Renaissance’s budget was adjusted from an initial 2014-15 budget of $7.8 million.
The charter schools pay their management companies fees for services that assist with the operation of the school. The services could range from legal support and financial support to staffing and providing administrative oversight of the schools.
The management fee for Lafayette Renaissance in 2015-16 is $408,464, compared with last year’s fee of $359,549. Acadiana Renaissance’s management fee is $1 million, compared with last year’s first-year fee of $884,445.
Charter Schools USA discounts its fees for new schools and bases the fee on other factors, such as a school’s financial health and enrollment, said Richard Page, executive vice president of development. The typical fee is 15 percent of revenue, he said.
“We don’t charge a fixed fee, but we will discount our fees to ensure that the rest of the budget is strong and all the resources needed are there. (Fees) are different across the network,” he said. “Enrollment is lower and the budget’s tighter at Lafayette right now, so we’ve further discounted our fees. At Acadiana, we’re still discounting the fee there but not as much.”
The schools’ board of trustees planned to approve the proposed budgets for the two schools Thursday.
Willow Charter’s budget is expected to be approved by the school’s board next month, said Jennifer Hoff, NHA senior communications manager. This time last year, the approved budget was a bit higher — $6.1 million — and adjusted with an actual first-year budget closer to $5.8 million.
Last year, Willow Charter’s management company contributed more than $860,000 to help cover expected operations. Both Charter Schools USA schools received loans of more than $800,000 for their first-year operations.
Some expenses included in Willow Charter’s 2015-16 budget: $1.5 million in salaries and related expenses, and a $1.2 million lease for its building. Services provided by NHA are also built into the budget, such as $185,670 for central services, which includes data processing and staffing services; $74,360 for business services, such as accounting; and $67,580 for executive administration fees.
An enrollment boost was expected at the schools as they expand grade levels this year. Willow started with kindergarten through fifth grade in August 2013, and the two Charter Schools USA schools started as K-6 schools. Each school plans to add a grade annually to become K-8 schools. Charter Schools USA also received authorization in 2013 from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to open a charter high school. That high school isn’t planned to open until 2017 and would allow its exiting eighth-graders to continue their education at a Charter Schools USA school. National Heritage Academies also received approval for a second school — a K-8 school. Construction began in Broussard for an August 2015 opening, but a BESE policy related to the opening of new charter schools has delayed the plans for the school. The policy allows the state to defer the opening of a new charter school if its sister schools in the state have low accountability scores.
The schools operate independently from the Lafayette Parish School System, which recently launched a marketing campaign to try to regain families who have left its public school classrooms. As part of the traditional public school system’s efforts to gain students, it also has expanded its online learning options with a K-12 virtual school to specifically target the more than 600 home school students in the parish.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.