OP-ED: OUR VIEW: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News, August 26, 2004

Charter Schools Can Serve the Community;
Educators Must Work with District to Benefit Students

By CRAIG CLOHESSY, Daily News City Editor

When done right, charter schools offer an alternative for some to traditional public education. When done wrong, failure is inevitable.

Moscow has provided the rest of the state an example of both approaches. The people involved with Renaissance Public Charter School, while well meaning, clearly bit off more than they could chew. The end result was the Moscow School Board revoking the school's charter, a decision later upheld by the Idaho State Board of Education.

On the opposite end of the scale is Moscow Charter School, which opened in 1998. School officials understood the need to start small, make sacrifices, and work closely with the Moscow School District. That approach has and continues to work well for Moscow's remaining charter school.

The school began by limiting enrollment to kindergarten through sixth grades. Renaissance tried the opposite approach. Officials went full out, forming a K-12 school. The result was stretched resources and strained budgets.

Charter schools are public schools, which means they are held to many of the same standards as school districts and receive funding from the state on a per student basis. Things started to crumble when the number of expected students failed to track with those who actually showed. The result was insurmountable financial troubles for Renaissance.

The folks at Moscow Charter School, from the beginning, understood the need to control expenses. With the use of start-up grants, the charter school purchased land and the school's building. Renaissance leased the land, building, and adjacent playground—all requiring outgoing cash to keep the doors open.

"It's the difference between owning a home and paying rent," Moscow School District Superintendent Candis Donicht noted of the approaches taken by the two charter schools.

The picture painted by the two charter schools shows that smart financial management can be as important to a school's survival as the type of educational offerings provided.

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