October 28, 2011
The Falcon School District 49 board expects to vote Wednesday on a proposal to spend $1.4 million on a building to expand online and other programs.
A lease-to-buy proposal was presented to the board Thursday, and while some board members seemed ready to approve contract negotiations, others said they did not have enough information.
Board members will tour the proposed site and review additional details before this week’s meeting.
“We have done a significant amount of preparation to bring it to this point. It didn’t just spring up,” said Brett Ridgway, District 49 Chief Business Officer.
The building recently became available, and the bank wants to make progress on a contract in about a month, he said.
Kim McClelland, iConnect Zone innovation leader/assistant superintendent, and Falcon Virtual Academy Principal Dave Knoche have requested additional space for their programs on several occasions, saying that enrollment growth should cover the increased costs.
District 49, like most school districts across the state, has made significant cuts as funding has dropped. However, according to recent board reports, online and blended learning programs are a bright spot, bringing in additional revenue.
The iConnect Zone handles online programs, enrichment courses for home-school families and programs that mix traditional schooling with online options in addition to charter schools.
McClelland has said students are signing up for program in increasing numbers and they are crowded in existing space with no room for anticipated growth.
Falcon Virtual Academy enrollment has increased from 102 students last year to 339 students currently, documents said. Assuming a high school retention rate of 65 percent, the district anticipates enrollment will reach 400 this school year.
Online school does not mean a student is sitting at a computer at home, district officials said.
Some programs offer a mix of face-to-face time with online courses. At any time, teachers work with students as needed, online or in the building. Enrichment programs depend on getting students together to learn, they said.
“It’s a challenge to get them all in there,” Knoche said, adding that they team-teach and find ways so older and younger students aren’t mixing. “We can’t do anything beyond what we’re doing now.”
The current location on Mohawk Road has 7,000 square feet, and was not set up as a school facility. Bathroom space is limited and cannot be increased.
Documents in the school board packet detailed a 20,000-square-foot building in foreclosure owned by the Small Business Administration available to lease for $70 per square foot.
Construction costs for traditional schools, typically much larger, range from $160 to $200 per square foot, board documents said.
A lease-purchase option for the building on Constitution Avenue would provide adequate space for Falcon Virtual Academy and other iConnect Zone programs while expanding the district’s presence in its southwest corner, documents said.
Money to pay for the expansion would come from the district’s capital reserve funds, not general fund. Falcon Virtual Academy has 139 students more than the adopted 2011-2012 budget projected, and the cost would be covered with the revenue generated from only 23 of those students, documents said.
Ridgway said the term of the lease would be 15 years, and is independent of the bond and mill levy override measures on the ballot. Details of an potential purchase have not been determined.
“There’s a lot of things we could do with a building like this,” Knoche told the school board Thursday. Possible programs include career and technical training, adult education, professional development and community classes.
Knoche said the existing building, if the lease is approved, could be a good fit for expanding home school programs.
Ridgway told the board that there wasn’t a lot of financial risk with the project.
However, board member Rusty Moomey peppered Knoche and Ridgway with questions about financial details and building use.
Board President David Martin wanted clarification that iConnect Zone programs would remain self-supporting, and asked about operating costs.
Knoche said programs will be self-supporting. Traditional brick-and-mortar schools aren’t always a good fit for students, he said, and parents want a social aspect to online schooling.
“We have a lot of different ideas,” Knoche said.
If approved, the lease will run the district less than $7 per square foot. The purchase price is approximately $70 per square foot, said school board treasurer Andy Holloman.
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