Oasis Charter's future in question
School has operated in the red for years
After five years in operation, Oasis Charter Academy has reached a crisis point.
The Hesperia Road charter school teaches 147 students and has nine employees, five of them teachers.
The school also has been losing money for years.
At Monday night's meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board parents, a teacher and student, all spoke up on behalf of the school, praising its more individualized teaching for students who might not always flourish in more traditional schools.
"I'm in the 12th grade and I've been in 12 schools," Oasis senior Aaron Breeze said at the school board meeting Monday. But the individual attention to students he received at Oasis has made all the difference, he said. "I've never received that kind of help before."
"She said, 'if they close this school, I'm not going back,'" mother Marissa Patterson said of her daughter.
But the hearing wasn't about the good the school has done, so much as it was about the state of the school's finances.
"They were in the process of revoking our charter. That's the purpose of the hearing," school director Cynthia Ferguson said Thursday.
"We have financial oversight responsibility, looking at their budget assumptions," since the HUSD is the overseeing district, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services George Landon said Friday. "They haven't been operating in the black for a number of years now."
"We've been carrying a negative fund balance at the end of our school year because we've been carrying a charter school loan," Ferguson said.
The school took out a loan in 2004 to pay for additional start-up expenses. But state law requires that charter schools spent 80 percent of their revenue on instructional services, benefits and salaries. And that leaves little for a smaller school like Oasis was for most of its existence to repay its debts.
"So that, in turn, gives us a liability, and that's why the school district is concerned," Ferguson said. But the school's success can solve the problem, she said, if they're given time: The student body has grown past 100 students, and the school's revenue is growing faster than its expenses. "At the end of next year, our negative fund balance will be gone."
But at the moment, Oasis is still in the red, and the HUSD is required to exercise financial oversight of the schools it charters.
Following Monday's hearing, Ferguson has submitted a revised budget and has been meeting with district staff to work out a possible solution.
"Both sides have been trying to work together and support each other in areas where we can," Landon said. "We're not saying that the school hasn't been doing good things. ... We also have the responsibility to make sure they're operating in a financial situation that's good for both sides."
Theoretically, the board has to take action within 30 days of Monday's hearing, but the school board will be asked at the next meeting to extend the deadline another 30 days, to allow time for an audit of Oasis to assess the school's financial outlook.
"We just want to be available to those students who need our services," Ferguson said. "Now that we've passed the break-even point, next year and the next should be a non-issue."
"You can't put a price on a good education," Breeze said. "And that's what you get at Oasis Charter Academy."
The next meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be held on May 19 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at Mission Crest Elementary School, 12850 Muscatel Street.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.