Administrative Services the District Provides to Schools
In school districts across the country, budget planning takes into account a combination of dollars to spend at the school level and services delivered through the district office. At City Schools, funds are allocated differently for charter and traditional schools, with charters receiving a larger portion of their resources in cash (to give them flexibility to implement their programs) and fewer district-provided services. But for charter and traditional schools alike, some administrative services must be delivered centrally by the district—for instance, those required by law (e.g., administering statewide tests like the PARCC; submitting data to state and federal governments) or as part of collective bargaining agreements (e.g., providing systems for evaluating staff). Beyond the legal requirements, there are other services that many agree are most efficiently and economically delivered centrally (e.g., coordinating school nurses and other student health services; ensuring emergency response for student safety and security).
Currently, guidance from the State allows school districts to hold back 2% of per-pupil dollars to pay for administrative services that must be provided by the district office. These services actually cost a lot more than 2%, so charter schools effectively receive them at significantly reduced cost. Determination of which services are included in the 2% and whether the charters must pay for other services is an area of disagreement between the district and those charter school operators who filed a lawsuit.
The discussion regarding administrative services and the 2% fee has been ongoing between City Schools and charter operators. In the 2013-14 school year a work group was formed which included representatives from the Coalition of Baltimore Public Charter Schools, the district’s New and Charter School Advisory Board, traditional school principals, Advocates for Children and Youth, the American Civil Liberties Union and City Schools to review the formula for charter school funding, including the services provided by the district office. Charter school representatives agreed at that time that the following services were mandatory for central delivery.
Mandatory District-Provided Services, as Agreed by Charter School Representatives*
- Support for operator-run schools; oversight of the charter application and renewal process; finalization and management of contracts; charter school monitoring
- Mandatory financial reporting to federal and state governments and grant authorities
- Contract procurement and management
- Payroll maintenance
- Development, support, and management of the student records information system
- Database development, implementation, maintenance, and support
- Federal, state, and other external and internal data reporting
- Test administration and testing integrity
- Districtwide policy development, review, vetting, and implementation
- Negotiation and implementation of labor agreements
- General legal support and document review in the areas of employment-related issues, special education, and labor/union agreements
- Discipline management (expulsion, long-term suspension, truancy services management)
- Student placement and attendance
- 504 planning and training
- Management of alternative options programs and schools for over-age, under-credited students
- Support services for students who are homeless
- Tracking, analyzing, and managing issues related to parental and community engagement
- Screening and hiring of school-based staff (teacher, school staff, principal)
- Employee services and support
- Board of Commissioners correspondence, communications, and general Board office support
In FY12, the cost of these mandatory services was $524 per pupil. But based on financial data available that year, the 2% administrative fee would have amounted to only $186 per pupil.
This is only part of the story. Charter schools have historically received a significant number of additional services that add further to the costs absorbed by the district and traditional schools. Although the charter operators who participated in the work group in 2013-14 did not agree these services were mandatory, other participants in the work group identified additional services that must be provided centrally and from which all students benefit. To ensure equity in the distribution of resources, the cost of providing these other mandatory services must be shared by all schools. Examples include:
School evaluations (including for the charter renewal process)
- Maintenance of computer networks and servers needed for required reporting (e.g., of student attendance, enrollment)
- Police emergency response
- Coordination of school health services and mental health providers
- City Schools’ budget development
- Accounting and collections
Based on FY12 budget data, the cost of these additional services provided to charter schools was $192 per pupil. When added to the cost for mandatory services not covered by the 2% administrative fee, this brings the total value of support provided to charter schools at no cost to them to more than $7 million each year.
In addition to the above services, charter schools also benefit from a number of other services that most members of the group agreed are not mandatory but provide key supports to schools such as tech support, grant writing, communications, partnership development and professional development for teachers and school leaders. City Schools has also provided leases for school buildings to charter operators at highly favorable rates, guaranteed loans for building renovations, and provided emergency maintenance and repairs. When these services are taken into account, it is clear that the district has not only provided commensurate funding for charter schools but has exceeded legal requirements as it works to support the needs of all students and schools.
For more information about how the district funds charter and traditional schools and about the overall district budget, visit City Schools’ website.