Charter Day Schools vs. five county school boards

Published: Jul. 18, 2011 at 9:37 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2011 at 10:35 AM EDT
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LELAND, NC (WECT) – The Charter Day Schools of Brunswick and Columbus County are heading to court against the five counties they serve.

A 2009 court decision has prompted several North Carolina Charter Schools to re-examine their books.

The Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte sued Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after it realized a discrepancy in per pupil funding. According to General Statute 115C238.29H, all charter school students should receive the same per pupil funding as those in traditional public schools. After all, charter schools are recognized by the state as public schools.

When The Charter Day School (a two-school system managed by The Roger Bacon Academy) opened their books, they discovered that an excess of $10,000 in county funding was missing.

Discussions with the five counties they serve (New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Columbus and Bladen) provided little agreement on the discrepancy and/or possible corrective action.

"At that point in time, you bring the lawyers into the picture," said Baker Mitchell, the school's founder. "They're not second class students. They are supposed to be funded equally to the county schools."

According to Mitchell, reports from the charter school were sent in on a monthly basis as to the number of pupils attending from each county. The schools were expected to reimburse the Day School based on the formula outlined by the statute.

Mitchell claims that while some reimbursement did take place, it was not the accurate amount that the law would have dictated. The combined total lacking from all of the counties reached into the thousands (exact figures were said to be unavailable).

The Charter Day School says it costs $6,952 per student at their Leland facility and $6,595 per student at their Columbus County School to provide instruction.

Mitchell says that about half of his students attend from Brunswick County. The school points to a recent report from the Whiteville News Reporter to highlight the funding strife.

The article states that during a January meeting, Columbus' Board of Education acknowledged the possibility of having to reimburse Roger Bacon Academy's two charter schools due to the outcome of the Sugar Creek suit.

Their estimate was $345,000 in owed funding.

"My expectation is this doesn't affect us and our relationship with the school boards," said Mitchell.

Mitchell says since 2000, the relationship between the school systems and charter schools has been agreeable and often, synergistic. He considers the funding matter to be an accounting issue and not a reason for them to lose sight of their shared goal: the success of public school students.

The Charter Day School filed a complaint to every county on June 30th. They are not seeking damages, only asking for a review of the county audit reports and an analysis as to whether or not reimbursement funding was due.

New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties would not comment on the issue in light of the lawsuit. WECT's calls to Columbus County Schools were not returned by the time of this article.

According to Bladen County Schools, 166 students from their county attended the charter school in 2010-11 and the system paid $97.38 per pupil, according to the formula.

The Charter Day School says that figure does not match what the general statute dictates, however; they were unable to provide an exact figure.

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