According to school officials, the five-year-old school, which at present has grades K through 12, has a $250,000 operating budget deficit.
The school is not to be confused with the city's other charter school, the Elysian Charter School, which currently contains grades kindergarten through eight.
Tuesday night, the Hoboken Charter School's Board of Trustees tabled a resolution approving an application for an amendment to its current charter, which was recently approved for a renewal period of five years.
According to Hoboken Charter School officials, the amendment specifies the need to suspend the upper school program for the duration of the current charter period and until such time as the viability for such a program is evident. School officials said Thursday that even if the Board of Trustees does vote to suspend the upper school program next year, classes for the remainder of this school year will be unaffected.
The decision to seek an amendment was made after a recent meeting held at the State Department of Education in Trenton, which was attended by the school's administrators, representatives of the HCS Board, a financial consultant to the school, and members of the State Department of Education.
Charter schools are public schools entirely funded by state and local taxpayer money. The difference between charter schools and other public schools is that charter schools do not report to city's Board of Education. The school has a board of trustees that handles questions about curriculum and administration.
According to Jill Singleton, the HCS's co-coordinator and one of the school's founders, the final vote was tabled Tuesday in order to allow for greater community input, and it is possible that a final vote might take place at the board's next meeting scheduled for Feb. 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Demarest Middle School. In addition to discussing the restructuring plans for the school, the board is also scheduled to discuss the layoff of seven staff members.
Parents, teachers, and students present at the meeting requested that the final decision be put off for a couple of weeks so that further budget analysis can take place. "We're still exploring a number of different options," said Singleton Thursday. "We are not yet at a fait accompli."
She said that the school administrators are still working around the clock to develop a model that makes keeping the upper school a financially viable option, but admitted at this point it's a difficult proposition.
If the application to amend eventually passes, the Department of Education has 21 days to accept the resubmitted application.
Mark Silberberg, the school's other co-coordinator, said Tuesday that even if the school votes to eliminate the upper school, the HCS is still committed to providing a quality education in grades K through eight.
"Despite these financial pressures, we remain committed to the school's mission of providing to the children of our community a highly individualized educational model with the student at the center of learning," said Silberberg. "Our model, based on rigorous academics, arts literacy, personal growth and civic growth, will not change. But we need to consider how we might make adjustments to our program so that it can work, or scale back to grades K through eight, at least for now."
Underenrollment one reason
Joseph Rafter, HCS Board Chairman, said Tuesday that the operating deficit stems from an issue of underenrollment and "educational needs that go beyond the scope of the funding provided for charter schools."
Since its inception, the charter school has had a multitude of different financial obstacles to overcome. A charter school by state statute gets only 90 percent of the local tax dollars per student that a district school of the same enrollment would get. They also do not get nearly as much state aid and federal grants as the district, according to charter school officials. According to Silberberg, when all income sources are totaled, the HCS only gets approximately 60 percent of the funding per-pupil that a student in a public school gets.
The school's situation is exacerbated by the fact that charter schools do not get any funding for facilities. Therefore they must find their own space to educate. For the past five years, the school has rented space from the Board of Education. The school's students are currently split between the Joseph F. Brandt Middle School and the A.J. Demarest Middle School. The schools are about a 10-minute walk apart, and HCS does not have access to its own gym or auditorium, depriving it of a space that is large enough for the entire school of approximately 262 students to have an assembly or public speaker.
If the school were to scale back and eliminate the upper school, then all of the school's students could fit into a single building, which would create substantial savings because the school would not have to pay for duplicated administrative costs, items such as telephones and fax machines, said Singleton.
To help alleviate that stress, the Hoboken Board of Education in December gave the school a break on the rent it pays. Since being founded, the HCS has paid 10 percent of its gross funding toward rent and maintenance. Under the new agreement, the school would pay 10 percent of its funding next year and then during the second and third year of the lease it would only pay 7 percent of its gross funding.
But according to Singleton, the lower rent is may not be enough to account for the $250,000 deficit. "We are deeply saddened by the possibility of losing this program," said Singleton. "We've been working hard for five years, with limited resources and space, to meet the need of our students. While it's difficult for us to think about these changes, we need to figure out how we can restore [the HCS] to financial health as we continue with our mission of providing our educational program to grades K through eight."
Rafter said that, if the suspension does become a reality, the school will be working with all eighth, ninth, tenth, and 11th graders and their families to transition them into other schools for the next academic year.
He added that the Department of Education and Hudson County Superintendent Robert Osak have committed their assistance to the transition.