Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2011

Budget problems close Ulysses charter school

March 31, 2011

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— A southwest Kansas school district has decided it cannot afford to operate a charter school that opened three years ago because of an expected cut of about than half a million dollars in state funding.

The Ulysses school district's board of education voted Monday to close the Ulysses Career Learning Academy at the end of the school year. The charter high school, which emphasized career choices and vocational skills, had 26 students last year.

The district spent about $120,000 last year to operate the school, out of a general operating budget of $9.9 million. With the expected loss of $500,000 in state aid for next year, the district couldn't continue to operate the school, superintendent Bill Hall said.

"The bottom line is school districts are forced to make hard decisions," Hall said. "It is difficult to do that without hurting kids."

Students were shocked and disappointed when told about the closing on Tuesday, principal Sheila Koop said.

"I am sad. It is a good program," Koop said. "I really feel we must invest in our children now. We need to be really thinking about what people are doing to education. Building jails costs more than teaching kids. Paying welfare costs more than teaching kids. It saddens me that our state doesn't seem to see that. They're taking our money and our kids with it."

The academy initially was funded with a two-year $155,000 federal grant. The school district took over the funding this year.

"It was a very difficult decision," said Margaret Nightengale, a member of the Ulysses school board. "We are trying very hard not to impact students, but the economic reality forced it."

School administrators will decide the status of Koop and the three learning center teachers in the future, Hall said, noting that the district has cut 10 to 12 teaching positions through attrition in the last two years.

The state's fiscal handling of schools will provide some lessons for the school's students, Koop said.

"I respect them," Koop said of her students. "They asked about writing letters to the legislators. That will be another learning opportunity. There may be some very good teaching moments in the next nine weeks."

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