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Chambersburg Academy funding partially at risk

April 12, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Chambersburg Academy, an online educational program started last year by the Chambersburg Area School District, could be among the programs facing a cut in the district's 2008-09 budget.

Begun as a pilot program for homebound and alternative education students, as well as a way to lure district students back from cyber charter schools, Chambersburg Academy has 24 slots at a cost of $5,800 a student. With administrative expenses added in, the program costs the district $169,000, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Services Eric Michael said.

Michael told the school board this week that the program has 15 female and nine male students, 11 of whom were previously enrolled in other cyber schools. The cost advantage of having those students get their online education through Chambersburg, however, has eroded, Michael said Friday.

"At the time (Chambersburg Academy) was started, it was about a $1,000 cost advantage to us to bring them back," Michael said. However, the state now pays part of each student's cyber tuition, a cost that used to be borne by the districts themselves.

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With the state now paying about 27 percent of a cyber charter school students' tuition, the district now pays about $1,000 more for each of the former cyber students enrolled in Chambersburg Academy, Michael said.

Most of the students in the program have other options - they can return to regular classrooms, return to homeschooling or enroll in cyber schools again, Michael said. The program still has value for homebound and alternative education students, he said.

Before online courses, a tutor would be sent to the homes of students who could not attend classes because of illness or injury, Michael said. Slots in some alternative education programs cost $15,000 a year, but if online education is suitable, that saves the district about $9,000 per student.

Nexus Corp. provides the staff and online media to deliver the students the district's curriculum using district textbooks, Michael said. The options, he told the board, were to continue the program as is, cut the number of slots or eliminate it.

Realistically, Michael said the district could cut the program cost in half and put limitations on who can enroll. It does not sound like much in a $102.7 million proposed budget, but the more than $80,000 that could be saved is enough to keep a teaching position.

Business Manager Rick Vensel said the district is attempting to tighten the budget to get it under the Act 1 index of 5.3 percent. That would allow the district to raise taxes 4.02 mills without using exemptions allowed under Act 1, Pennsylvania's property tax reform law.

The district has been approved for exemptions totaling $1.4 million, which would allow taxes to go up more than another 2 mills if the district so chooses, Vensel said.

A mill is the equivalent of $1 in property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value. With a current tax rate of 76.91 mills and an average assessed value of $19,150 per property, a district property owner's taxes now average $1,472.83, Franklin County Chief Appraiser Gary Martin said.




HISTORY

The program was started a year ago for homebound or alternative education students, and to lure district students back from expensive cyber schools.

OPTIONS

With a cut in funding, the district would have to reduce the number of slots, now at 24, and limit which students it serves.

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