The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 15, 2013

Cyber plan could ease Danville School District budget woes

By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — With a $1 million to $1.5 million deficit looming, one of the Danville School District’s most cost-effective moves may be to start a cyber school component.

For some time, the district has been exploring offering a hybrid online model, where classes are available both over the Internet and in district buildings. While a final price tag has not been determined on such a program, one cost is clear — annually, the district is losing $400,000 to $500,000 to students who live in the district but attend online charter schools.

State law requires the district to pay for these students’ cyber classes, said Janis Venna, district business manager.

There are about 48 students in the district, including nine special-education students, attending online charter schools. On average, it costs the district $8,000 a year to send a standard student to online schools and approximately $16,000 a year to send a special-education student, said Cheryl Latorre, district superintendent.

It’s not uncommon for these students to later return to Danville’s public schools, said Latorre, and when they do, she said they usually need a year of remedial courses to catch up to their peers.

“Many students come back to us, and we have to rebuild,” Latorre said. “It’s another year of taxpayers’ dollars to mediate them. We’d rather see the kids here.”

The district is looking at several providers for their potential cyber component. The lowest cost for the component would be $500 per course credit taken online, Latorre said. This would likely end up costing $2,500 to $3,500 per student, she said.

Students enrolled in the district’s cyber component would be part of their class’s graduation ceremony and would be eligible for after-school and extracurricular activities.

There are five or six district students enrolled in cyber schools who would be interested in returning to Danville if the district offered online classes, Latorre said.

At the school board’s March 12 meeting, Latorre reviewed the district’s long-term plan, which included approximately $125,000 set aside from next year’s budget to invest in the cyber component.

Also discussed were potential cuts that could help make up the projected deficit.

In total, Latorre listed $730,000 in potential cuts, including removing funding for the cyber school program. Board Vice President David Weader expressed reluctance at removing money from the cyber component due to the possibility of it creating revenue for the district.

“We haven’t finalized what cuts will happen,” Venna said. The final number for the deficit will not be known until the school board decides whether to increase property taxes and by how much.

In addition, the district is expected to get about $225,000 in funding and grants from Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget. It is currently unclear what the final amount received from the state will be, Venna said.

The majority of the deficit for the next school year comes from health insurance and retirement costs, which total about $860,000, Venna said.

“We can’t do anything about the rates, they’re set by the state,” she said.