Two charter schools closed for good last week and the fate of a third awaits jurisdiction from the St. Johns County School Board.
According to Cathy Mittelstadt, the associate superintendent for student support services, the St. Paul’s School of Excellence and the Academy of Business and Leadership are in the process of completing charter school closure forms.
At a board workshop Tuesday, Mittelstadt reported that St. Paul’s simply decided against renewing its contract, which expired June 1.
Although the district recently approved a two-year contract renewal for ABLE, Mittelstadt said financial conditions have affected the charter’s outcome.
“The leadership has decided they are not fiscally sound to continue,” Mittelstadt said.
She said families are being contacted about the decision and closure documentation will be complete by July.
Meanwhile, the board continues to investigate the circumstances behind a sudden decline in the general fund balance at First Coast Technical College, including $600,000 in unpaid bills and another $484,896 owed to the school district for two payrolls.
Several letters from the district, as well as one from Commissioner Pam Stewart representing the Florida Department of Education, have alerted FCTC’s board of directors about deteriorating financial conditions.
“Their current operating status is not financially sustainable,” Mittelstadt said. “Our district has continued investigations both financially and also regarding some human resource concerns.”
By the end of June, the district projects FCTC will have a negative cash balance of $497,726.
The district has spent the past month working with the board and staff at FCTC to review financial statements.
Mittelstadt said final action will be decided at the June 14 meeting on the FCTC main campus. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
Construction plans for two of the three new schools originally set to open by August 2017 are being pushed back another year to give contractors more competition room.
According to Paul Rose, the executive director of facilities and new construction, decisions to revise construction documents and site plans followed after a single bid for the K-8 school in the Aberdeen area was far above the district’s budget.
Rose said the two K-8 schools were considered “high-risk” projects because of size and limited completion time.
The bid time for the K-8 projects has been extended until the beginning of August. “We have received much more interest because of the extension,” Rose said.
Bids for the new elementary school for World Golf Village opened on Tuesday, and Rose said it is still scheduled for completion by the 2016-17 year.
“If bids are favorable, we will be giving that at the next board meeting,” Rose said. “But we expect much better competition [from contractors] because this is a smaller project.”
In addition to new school construction, Rose said the multi-facility expansion for Alan D. Nease High School is scheduled to finish soon after the beginning of the upcoming school year.
While the construction delays give time for financial discretion on the district’s end, a heavy influx of students is still concerning.
According to Nicole Cubbedge, director of facilities planning and growth management, the district has grown more than 47 percent in the past few years with no signs of slowing down.
“Our projections take us at a growth rate of 45 percent over the next 10 years,” Cubbege said.
That means more construction, more renovations and more expansions, but it doesn’t necessarily mean more funding.
Cubbege said the Florida Department of Education determines five-year growth based on Capital Outlay Full-Time Equivalent projections tied to capital outlay revenues.
From these projections, the district is required to address construction and renovation needs.
The most recent COFTE states in the next five years, the student population will have grown by more than 43,000 students.
“But past experience tells us our growth will be much stronger than these projections,” Cubbege said.
In 10 years, there will be a demand for three new K-8 schools, two elementary schools, and one high school as well as a ninth-grade center.
The numbers are undershot estimates from the state, and Cubbege said the district plans well ahead of the growth.
“It’s not likely we can continue the next 20 years at a 45 percent growth rate,” Cubbege said.