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Charter school growth adding to Syracuse city schools' budget gap

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
The Syracuse City School District Chief Financial Officer Suzanne Slack faces a multi-million dollar budget gap this year.

The Syracuse City School District is facing a $24 million deficit in it’s 2018-2019 budget. It hopes to close the gap using savings and more funds from the state.

The District’s Chief Financial Officer Suzanne Slack says part of the deficit is the result of $19 million of increased spending. Much of that is unavoidable, for things like pension costs. But another cost that is rising is the share of district funds that go towards charter schools.

Slack wants to make it clear - the district is not opposed to charter schools, which are free, independent schools that act outside of the the regulations public schools face. But the way they impact public schools says Slack is simple. State aid follows children who go to charter schools.

"So for every kid that goes to a charter school, I write a check for about $12,000 to that charter school," Slack said. 

That means for this year, the district spent $24 million a year on charter school students, and next year that number will increase to more than $28 million. There are currently three charters in Syracuse, with another coming online this year. About 8 percent of the districts students are enrolled. And that percentage is key, says Slack. Districts that have had big problems with an over saturation of charters, like Buffalo and Rochester have more like a quarter of city children attending charters.

Slack believes a limit of about 10 percent is all a district like Syracuse can deal with, which is why the school board is asking the state to limit the charter school growth over the next three years.

"What we’re asking is before we get to that saturation point, where we have to start closing buildings and decimating programs, limit locally how many charter operations there are," She said. "So we don’t get into a situation where we’re cutting programs, closing schools, not able to balance our budget.”

The state has denied similar requests in the past.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.