Budgets approved for two Lafayette charter schools

The Lafayette Charter Foundation’s board approved $15 million in operating costs for its two charter schools, which open to students in two weeks.

The schools are overseen by a local board of trustees and managed by the Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA.

Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy’s total budget is $7.8 million and Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy is $7.1 million.

The majority of the schools’ expenses is directed to teacher and staff salaries and benefits. Lafayette Renaissance expects to spend nearly $2.9 million on employees and Acadiana Renaissance will spend about $3 million.

The board amended its budgets Tuesday to account for increased technology costs and to reduce the management fees it pays to Charter Schools USA to cover the cost. Before the budget change, Charter Schools USA’s management fees were $884,445 for Acadiana Renaissance and $359,549 for Lafayette Renaissance. The board removed $55,000 from the Lafayette Renaissance management fee and $60,000 from the fee for Acadiana Renaissance.

Kathleen Espinoza, a Lafayette Parish School System parent who started a community group in opposition to the charter schools last year, questioned how management fee amounts were set.

The board’s attorney, Gary McGoffin, said the fee is negotiable.

“We negotiated with them a lower percentage ­— a different percentage for both schools,” he said. “It’s not a fixed fee. It’s a negotiated fee.”

As of last week, Acadiana Renaissance had a larger enrollment of 688 students, while Lafayette Renaissance’s enrollment was at 614. Both schools were built in or near new neighborhood developments and teachers expect to move into their classrooms in the next few days.

Board member Carlos Harvin credited Charter Schools USA staff for its efforts in overseeing the starts of both schools.

“We’re opening on time and on budget and we’re looking at full enrollment,” Harvin said.

The schools pay for building and land leases to a Charter Schools USA affiliate company. Acadiana Renaissance pays nearly $881,761 for its site on Savoy Road in Youngsville and Lafayette Renaissance pays $863,824 for its campus off Pont des Mouton Road in northern Lafayette.

Espinoza asked the board who receives the rent check.

McGoffin said for now, rent will be paid to Ryan Companies, the Minnesota contractor that facilitated the property purchase and construction for both sites. Eventually Charter Schools USA’s affiliate company, Red Apple Development, will purchase the property and lease payments will be made to the affiliate, he said.

On Tuesday, Charter Schools USA’s finance staff made a presentation on the budgets that showed a slight decrease in revenues for the schools. However, the presentation excluded proceeds the schools will receive from loans: $832,451 for Acadiana Renaissance and $813,127 for Lafayette Renaissance.

Wednesday’s meeting was the board’s last gathering before the schools open their doors to the kindergarten through sixth-grade students. During the meeting, board president Mary Louella Riggs-Cook thanked the parents who will send nearly 1,300 students to the two sites. The schools are allowed to enroll children outside of Lafayette Parish.

“To the parents, you are the change agents,” she said. “You saw. You believed and you’re believing in us in doing what’s best for your children.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.