Two Lafayette charter schools propose $1.2 million in management fees, $1.7 million in rent

Two new charter schools opening on opposite sides of Lafayette Parish in two weeks together will pay nearly $1.2 million to their management company, Charter Schools USA, and more than $1.7 million in rent to a sister company for the new school buildings and the land they sit on.

The expenses are listed in the schools’ proposed budgets, which will be considered during a 5:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday of the board of the Lafayette Charter Foundation. The public has a chance to view the proposed spending plans for the 2014-15 school year at the schools’ temporary offices at 315 Johnston St.

Nearly 1,300 students are expected to attend the two schools. The schools are Type 2 charters authorized by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and are allowed to enroll students from outside Lafayette Parish. The enrollment exceeds first-year goals for both sites, a sign of strong interest among parents in Lafayette and neighboring parishes.

Both schools start classes on Aug. 12.

The majority of the operating revenue for both schools comes from state per-pupil funding received either directly from the state or through the local school districts where the students are coming from.

Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy, located in Youngsville near Sugar Mill Pond development, has 688 students enrolled. Its $7.9 million budget is funded with about $3.9 million in local Minimum Foundation Program per-pupil revenues and nearly $2.6 million in state MFP dollars.

Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy, located in northern Lafayette in the Couret Farms neighborhood, had 611 students enrolled as of Thursday. Its $7.2 million budget is funded with about $3.4 million in local MFP funding and nearly $2.3 million in state MFP dollars.

Both schools took out loans of more than $800,000 to cover costs for equipment, including technology, and furnishings.

The schools are overseen by a local, independent school board — trustees of the Lafayette Charter Foundation. The foundation’s board sets policies and approves the operating budgets, while the management and operation of the schools are overseen by Charter Schools USA. The Florida-based charter management company has schools in seven states, including nine schools in Louisiana. In addition to Lafayette Parish, the company has schools in the Baton Rouge area and in Caddo, Iberville and Calcasieu parishes.

Charter Schools USA will receive $884,445 as its management fee from Acadiana Renaissance. The management fee for Lafayette Renaissance — $359,549 — is less than the fee for its sister school because the company discounts its fee for new schools, said Mary Louella Riggs-Cook, president of the Lafayette Charter Foundation.

“The projected enrollment for Lafayette Renaissance is lower than that of Acadiana Renaissance, which explains the lower management fee. The services rendered to the students are equivalent,” Riggs-Cook said.

Unlike traditional public schools, the state does not require charter schools to provide transportation to students. State Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, had proposed legislation in the most recent legislative session that would have required only Lafayette Parish to provide free bus service to charter school students. However, he tabled the bill to study the transportation issue.

Both schools’ budgets include about $56,000 to cover student transportation costs. The allocation, however, is a contingency for those students with special needs or who are homeless, Riggs-Cook said.

The foundation doesn’t own the schools but leases the buildings and the land. Last year, the foundation entered into an agreement with Ryan Companies US, of Minnesota, for the purchase of the property and construction of both sites. The sites eventually will be purchased by Charter Schools USA’s sister company, Red Apple Development, which will become the schools’ landlord.

In the upcoming school year, the bill for the building and land leases is $863,824 for Lafayette Renaissance and $881,761 for Acadiana Renaissance.

The funding of charter school construction with public money was unsuccessfully challenged during the legislative session that ended in June. Current law states that if a school’s charter is revoked, assets purchased with state funds become the property of the authorizing agency —whether it be a local school district or the state. In most scenarios, the charter schools lease the buildings, and either the charter school management company or one of its affiliates retain ownership of the buildings. The legislation would have amended current law to include all assets, even the buildings, used in the management of the schools.

Another proposed bill would have prohibited charter schools or boards from entering management agreements with for-profit management companies. Any agreements entered before July 1 would have been terminated by June 30, 2015. The legislation would have affected the Lafayette Charter Foundation’s agreement with Charter Schools USA and would have affected a third Lafayette Parish charter school — Willow Charter Academy — that will also open Aug. 12. Willow Charter is managed by National Heritage Academies, a for-profit company based in Michigan.

Last week, the state Bond Commission deferred a $1.7 million request from another nonprofit group for construction of Charter Schools USA-managed schools in Baton Rouge and Plaquemine. Some commissioners questioned the schools’ use of their MFP per-pupil funding to repay construction bonds and asked for a delay on the bond decision to seek answers.