Dare schools chief backs Corolla school school

By Peter Williams

The Daily Advance

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Even though it means her school district could end up losing some revenue, Dare County’s schools chief says she supports the new charter school in Corolla.

Dare Superintendent Sue Burgess said she understands the hardship students on Currituck County’s Outer Banks face, having to travel hours to a school either in Dare County or the Currituck mainland. Having a school much closer has to be a benefit, she said.

“If there ever has been a good case for a charter school, I believe they have it,” Burgess said.

Water’s Edge Village School in Corolla was one of a handful of charter schools approved statewide this year by the State Board of Education. Its creation means some Corolla-area students now attending Kitty Hawk Elementary in Dare County may opt to attend the charter school. Even more significantly for Burgess, some students from Dare may decide to attend the charter school as well.

The result of either of those scenarios coming to pass would be the transfer of state revenue from the Dare schools to the Water’s Edge Village School. That’s because although charters can’t charge students to attend, they do receive the share of state and local monies that public school districts get for those students.

If 10 Dare County students transferred to Water’s Edge, Burgess would have to write a check to the charter school for $39,000 in local funds. Dare would also lose about $50,000 a year in state funding to the charter school for those students.

The Dare schools would also lose revenue if Corolla-area students transferred to the charter school. That’s because the Currituck school district now transfers its share of state dollars for those students to the Dare schools.

Burgess said she doesn’t know yet what impact the Water’s Edge school will have on the Dare district’s funding.

“It would depend on how many (students) from a particular grade level transferred,” she said. “Until we see the transfers, we won’t know. It might mean we need a fewer teacher here or there.”

Whatever the impact, it’s not expected to be large. The Dare County Schools has an enrollment of about 4,800 students. Water’s Edge has been approved for 31 students, but only 13 had applied by its registration deadline on Monday. That number had to 15 by Thursday. Of that number, one is a Dare resident and three are Currituck residents who currently attend school in Kitty Hawk.

The charter school may attract more students from Dare. Water’s Edge officials in fact will meet with some Dare residents who have expressed an interest in the school. The meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Monday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Kitty Hawk.

The idea that Dare students might attend the Corolla school has always been on the table, said Megan Agresto, president of the Water’s Edge board of directors.

“Everybody agrees there is a need” for the school, Agresto said. “People react to the idea that kids are spending three and a half hours a day on a school bus.”

Geography suggests that if Dare students do attend the charter school, the most likely to do so are those who attend Kitty Hawk Elementary. With room for 600 but an enrollment of between 400 to 500, Kitty Hawk is currently operating under capacity.

Water’s Edge’s board of directors, along with officials from other newly approved charter schools, were in Raleigh this week attending a training session on the requirements for operating a public school.

Because they were chartered under a new fast-track approval method, the new schools have less than six months to begin operating instead of the year that previous charter schools were given. Water’s Edge and other charter school officials are facing a deadline of Aug. 15 to get their schools up and running.

Joel Medley, director of the state’s charter school program, said the officials don’t have an easy task.

“I think they are all making progress, but that Aug. 15 deadline is looming large,” Medley said. “It’s not as easy as a lot of folks think it is.”

Water’s Edge won’t start receiving state funding until late July or early August.

Until then, the Corolla charter school will have to raise money to pay its expenses. They must meet the same reporting requirements as traditional public schools.

As of this week, Water’s Edge had $25,000 in the bank and expects to announce another large donation soon. But until the school has a solid enrollment number, it can’t really create a budget, Agresto said.

The State Board of Education won’t revoke the Corolla school’s charter if it doesn’t meet its approved enrollment of 31 students, Medley said.

“It depends on their budget,” he said.

 “The state has granted them a waiver from the minimum requirement of 65 students. If they get 28 (students) and they can make their budget work, that’s OK. If they start running into a deficit, then that’s a problem.”