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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

SHATTERED PROMISES: What If "Tomorrow" Never Comes?

Will the new school year bring new problems for the Grand Traverse Academy, or just the same old same old? After all, prepaid Steven Ingersoll/Smart Schools Management expenses are back!

Among the stated “factors bearing on the district’s future” in the Grand Traverse Academy’s June 30, 2015 annual Audited Financial Statements was the Academy’s reliance on State Aid Anticipation Notes (SAAN). 

Although a recent Grand Traverse Academy’s projected operating cash flow, created by Full Spectrum Management for the Academy’s previously undisclosed August 2, 2016 formal “request for proposal” for its new $2,900,000 State Aid Note, reveal continued reliance on borrowed funds for school operations. The RFP documents also reveal the aggressive enrollment goals Mark Noss carved out for the Traverse City charter school—targets that fly in the face of current Michigan demographics and declining school enrollment in the greater Traverse City area.

Before we examine the bullish Noss projections (calculated for the 2015-16 fiscal year, along with the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19) let's look at a five-year trend overview of Grand Traverse Academy student enrollment.

The five-year snapshot (using official Michigan Department of Education statistics) reveals enrollment at the school peaked at 1,231 during the 2013-14 school year, slumping by 4.7% from its peak to 1,173 for last school year.

However, Noss projects enrollment at the Grand Traverse Academy will increase by nearly 6.5% percent during the 2016-17 school year, growing from 1,174 to 1,250.

The enrollment projection Noss cites in the 2017-18 budget (below) is even more aggressive: 1,425, a 14% increase over the previous year.

And, in the 2018-19 school year, the last projected by Noss, the enrollment figure again grow to 1,550, an increase of nearly 9% over the previous year.

Although a local newspaper, reporting just days ago about school enrollment trends, stated that “preliminary figures signal an enrollment decline across northwest Michigan”, Mark Noss, head of Full Spectrum, the Grand Traverse Academy's current management company, boldly projects the charter school's enrollment will grow from 1,174 in 2015-16 to 1,550 by 2018-19, a staggering 32% increase.

So, is this a budget thing or just wishful thinking? If I weren't so polite, I'd say this was fucking nuts!

With its March 18, 2016 trompe l'oeil ground breaking (cupcakes!) in the rear view, the Grand Traverse Academy's new math and science center has apparently run smack into a wall. And although construction activity was supposed to begin right after July 4th, according to a statement made by Mark Noss during the Academy's June 24th, 2016 board meeting, work on the 29,000 square foot expansion has yet to commence.

But click on the 2016-17 projection image above to enlarge that image, and you'll see that Noss has included the $30,000 a month lease payments originally scheduled to kick in on February 1, 2017 or the first day of the month of actual occupancy of the new math and science building, whichever occurs later. (Monthly lease payments increase to $38,000 in the second year.)

As detailed in the minutes from the Grand Traverse Academy board’s “special” February 2, 2016 noon meeting, a three-year lease was executed. 
“Lease Resolution – Mark Noss explained to the Board that the purpose of this meeting is to approve the new Lease which reflects the increase in the cost of the new building. After initial bids came in over budget, plans were reviewed and pared down, but items removed are all things that can be added at a later time, i.e. student lockers, cabinetry, roofing and flooring, projection screens, blinds, etc. The Lease term is for three years, after which time GTA will purchase the building from Full Spectrum. This plan will help with the school’s cash flow until 2019, providing time to become financially healthy again. Projected student count increase for 16-17 is 100-125, which will increase per student funding. Many PR plans are in motion to assure the increase. After discussion, motion was made by Werth, supported by Bourdkani to approve the revised Lease as presented. Unanimous” 

Oh, wait.

Could this be the answer to those aggressive (translation: fucking nuts!) student enrollment projections: “Projected student count increase for 16-17 is 100-125, which will increase per student funding.” 

It's always the money!

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