Marco charter school facing budget deficit for first time

— Marco Island’s 10-year-old Charter Middle School is facing a budget deficit for the first time since inception.

Its operating budget for the 2010 school year is $1,626,356 — and it needs $113,000 to stay out of the red.

The school, which receives about 2 percent less state funding per student than regular public schools, caters to 365 students from grades six through eight.

Board member Norka Malberg recently raised the issue in the wake of poor ticket sales for an upcoming April 10 fundraiser to be held at the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort.

In a letter to parents, Malberg said the upcoming fundraiser is the biggest of the year. “I fear that without success in this event, we won’t be able to raise enough to be in the black this year,” she said.

“This is an opportunity for the community to rally around their local school ... without this support the amazing programs and high quality of education will be slowly threatened by the strain of financial demands.”

Board President Jennifer Tenney allayed any fears that the school might “fail” this year because of the shortfall, which was exacerbated by a reduction in state funding per student of $205.

“Our fundraising goal was $145,000 but we absolutely need to raise $113,000,” she said.

Tenney added that the continual goal is to build the surplus, and that reducing expenses such as electrical costs by using less air conditioning when possible has been effective in counteracting the state funding decrease.

Tenney said it is hoped the April 10 “dinner/theater” event, featuring musical performances by two teachers, the Marco Strummers and young local dancers, will raise about $15,000. An annual cash raffle aims at the same amount.

Tenney said community support, such as from the Island’s Rotary clubs, is also invaluable, and that principal George Abounader is canvassing for about $24,000 in income from these and other groups for 2010.

Other means of income are from parents, who have the option of paying “school fees” or volunteering their time instead, Tenney said.

Principal Abounader simplified the disparity between charter school and public school funding by saying: “It’s difficult enough to work with 100 percent, so imagine doing that with 98 percent when funding has decreased to the levels of 2004-05.”

All this notwithstanding, Abounader said, the school achieved the highest Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores in 55 of the state’s 67 counties, and is ranked in the top 3.5 percent of all public schools in Florida.

Spearheaded by Marco Island mom Paula Tateo, the school opened in August 1998, with 200 students housed in portables.

By definition, being a charter school means it operates as an independent contractor with the Collier County School District. The new facility, costing $17.3 million, welcomed its first students on Aug. 20, 2007.

A two-story academic building and a separate related arts building comprises 69,000 square feet.

Anyone interest in attending the April 10 function should contact lorihavemeier@gmail.com (389-4989) or

Norka at nmalberg@hotmail.com (331-6813).

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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