A charter school in Columbus could close unless it raises $250,000 by the end of the week.
The school needs the money to continue operations or it will have to relinquish its charter.
At the end of the 2012–13 school year, the International School entered into a lease-to-purchase agreement with The Ridge, a former church located at 51 N Brooks St. in Columbus. School officials budgeted between $75,000 and $150,000 for renovations. However, that amount grew to almost $700,000 in the face of additional building changes, leaving the school unable to foot the bill.
Jonah Sims heads the International School and describes the school’s circumstances as a “chicken or the egg” situation. School officials tried to move the school into the larger building but weren’t able to because it was too expensive. And because the school didn’t move, he says the school’s enrollment dropped from a projected 170 to 116 students.
“How do we have student growth if we don’t have a bigger facility?” Sims says.
Realizing their shortfall, school officials lobbied different public and private organizations for “bridge loans”, but to no avail.
Rich Wagner is the Board Chair for the International School and parent of two students there. He cites a lack of state funding as a major obstacle. He says the $5,500 per student charter schools isn’t enough to pay for facilities, repairs or transportation.
Because state funding for charter schools is dependent on projected student enrollment, the International School is being required to pay the state back the amount of the 49 student difference — nearly $270,000. The school has asked parents for money to cover some of the costs, but it only raised around $18,000.
Wagner says the school could take out loans, but the board isn’t willing to do so.
“As a volunteer board, it would be irresponsible for us to go that route and not have a means to pay the bills.”
The school board is meeting Wednesday to make a final decision about whether the school will close. If it does, students will be absorbed into schools in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation.
The International School is a tuition-free public charter school. The school opened in 2009 after parents and students in Columbus began exploring educational options besides traditional public schools.
It graduated its first class this past May. All of those students went on to attend college.