The Lincoln Academy, Beloit’s new charter school, will receive fewer tax dollars than traditional public schools, but the financial gap will be filled by the Hendricks Family Foundation and other sources in the first five years, officials said.
“Because of school finance policies, charter schools throughout the country must always do more with less and must raise private resources such as grants, private donations and sponsorships in order to fund school operations. The same will be true for The Lincoln Academy,” said Lisa Furseth, secretary of the Kids First Beloit Board of Directors.
Financial documents in the Phase 2 application to the UW Office of Educational Opportunity project a potential funding gap of more than $10.25 million over the first five years of operation.
That number is based on the charter school per-pupil rate of $8,911 for the 2019-20 year, which corresponds with the time the academy projected its budget. The number does not account for annual revenue increases that might occur.
The new school, which is under construction at 608 Henry Ave., began enrolling students Feb. 1 and is scheduled to open this fall.
It has space for 400 students in its first year with a capacity of up to 700. Tuition is free for families because the academy is a taxpayer-supported school authorized through the UW System.
Hendricks Commercial Properties donated the 4.2-acre site on the Eclipse Center campus to Kids First Beloit, the not-for-profit organization incubated by Beloit 200. Construction of the three-story, 112,000-square-foot school is supported by donations.
The Lincoln Academy does not have authority to levy local property taxes, but it will receive state and federal aid. In the 2020-21 academic year, independent charter schools received $9,165 in per-pupil payments, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website.
Furseth acknowledged there is a gap between taxpayer aid and the cost to educate students. She said the first year operating budget has not yet been given to the board.
“The Lincoln Academy is in the process of enrolling students, hiring staff, establishing benefit plans and finalizing building designs, all of which have an impact on the operating budget,” she said. “We anticipate a gap of approximately $2,000 per student. With 400 students projected in the first year, there will be an approximate $800,000 gap for year one.”
In a Feb. 14, 2020, letter, Diane Hendricks, president and chairman of Hendricks Family Foundation, said the foundation will pay for planning expenses, construction or renovation expenses, and operating expenses in excess of those supported by taxpayers and donors through the school’s first five years of operation. Hendricks also committed to work with the board on a long-term sustainability plan.
Despite the foundation’s promise of support, the school will need to run a lean shop, Furseth said.
“Salary ranges will be based on comparable scales in the area,” she said.
“It will be important to have high-quality educators working with scholars.”
While academy staff can’t participate in the Wisconsin Retirement System, the school will offer its own retiredment plan, which includes a match and bonuses.
Organizers are working on a list of donation opportunities for the school’s website. The list could include such suggestions as sponsoring an athletic team or school club, providing equipment for exploration spaces, and helping families buy uniforms or other items.