The Township’s public school district has been warned to budget more than $15 million for a proposed Teaneck-based virtual charter school in a scenario that could lead to sweeping cuts to programs and staff, District Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said Wednesday.
In a letter to the district, the state said Teaneck should allocate more than $15 million for “planning purposes” in its 2012-13 budget for the Garden State Virtual Charter School, Pinsak said. The state Education Department will announce in January if the charter is approved to open.
The $15.4 million warning represents 20 percent of the Teaneck public school budget, Pinsak said.
“$15 million is devastating,” Pinsak said. “I’m shocked.”
The charter’s proposed cost to Teaneck would force the district to cut at least 60 to 80 positions at all levels, Pinsak said. Other possible impacts would be increased class sizes, the end of school trips and activities, cuts to school busing, consolidating private school bus stops and outsourcing custodians.
On top of the cuts, Pinsak said the Board of Education might still have to ask voters approve a tax increase.
“It’s very concerning to me,” Pinsak said. "We'll be looking at the legal aspects of it."
State Education Department spokesman Justin Barra said the district wasn't required to budget the total amount.
"There's not an absolute obligation that they budget this amount," Barra said. "This is a tool for them."
The state's estimate is based on potential enrollment from Teaneck, he said.
"We do our best to make a projection," Barra said.
, which plans to offer an online curriculum, has proposed to serve 1,000 K-12 students statewide in its first year. The number of students from Teaneck is not yet known and would impact the final costs locally. State officials calculated the sum by attributing the maximum possible enrollment to Teaneck students.
Still, Pinsak said the district cannot ignore the state’s recommendation in its budget process.
Officials set aside money for charter schools first, she said.
Charter school founder Jason Flynn, of Teaneck, said the school did not anticipate the majority of its students would be from Teaneck. The Township was listed as the charter school's home district, but students statewide can attend if the school is approved. Each of the student's home districts would be required to pay per enrollee.
"This is a statewide virtual charter school," Flynn said. "The funding of an individual follows the backpack."
The charter school would cater to unique groups of students, including those with physical disabilities and those in urban areas who are not selected for existing charter schools.
"It has to be the right kind of kid," he said.
The initial budget projection was high because the law required estimates to be made using Teaneck's cost per pupil, Flynn said. The online school would have significantly less cost per pupil and not have added expenses of a large school building. The school would open a drop-in center in Teaneck, with most instruction done via Web conferencing.
Flynn said he hoped to work with Teaneck school officials, and meet with State Senator Loretta Weinberg and state education officials.