Deerwood Academy, a new 160-student charter school in Port Richey, spent nearly $20,000 on portable classrooms and plans on another $5,000 for renovations to the other classrooms it rents from the Unity Church of Port Richey, where the school is based.
Dayspring Academy, Pasco County's other charter school, has spent about $80,000 renovating an old VA clinic into classroom space for its 270 students. Included in the renovations were the installation of new windows, subdividing the building into classrooms and the construction of fire walls.
The money for both schools' projects comes from the state's "capital outlay" fund, tax dollars that pay for the construction and renovations of Florida public schools. Some Pasco School Board members have questioned why taxpayers are paying for renovations to privately owned buildings when thousands of Pasco schoolchildren cram each day into portables and crowded classrooms.
"Who benefits?" asked board member Kathleen Wolf. "The owners of the leased buildings, that's who."
But while the charter renovations might not sit well with some board members, they're perfectly legitimate under the laws governing Florida charter schools.
Two years ago the Legislature passed a law giving charter schools a slice of the capital outlay pie. It was a proud moment for charter school advocates, who for several years lobbied to be included in the funding mix.
But most charter schools run on a shoestring and few have buildings of their own, meaning they tend to rent classroom space wherever they can find it. Dayspring spent its first year in classrooms it rented at a church on Trouble Creek Road. Deerwood has a one-year, $48,000 lease with the Unity Church of Port Richey.
Receiving capital outlay money from the state will allow the schools to plan for permanent buildings as well as purchase furniture and equipment that otherwise would be out of reach, charter school advocates say.
This school year, Dayspring will receive $101,000 in capital outlay money, while Deerwood will get $151,000.
"We can account for every penny we put into this facility," said Deerwood founder Hank Johnson. "It's a fine line. We are custodians of state funds, and so we don't want to buy things that the state can't "own.' But that's one of the costs of doing business."
Johnson also said he structured his lease to make the church responsible for renovations. Deerwood then reimburses the church through its monthly rent payments, he said.
Similarly, Dayspring's landlord has promised to reimburse the school for renovations that improve the value of the old clinic, said John Legg, one of the school's founding members.
For example, the landlord has agreed to cover the costs of the new windows and fire walls to the tune of about $20,000.
The school also has a 10-year lease with the landlord, which makes it unlikely that the building's owner is getting a free renovation at taxpayers' expense.
Charter school money plans
Pasco County's two charter schools have laid out plans on how they will spend most of their share of the state's "capital outlay" money.
Rent, security deposit: $ 48,000
Paint: $ 3,500
Construction, carpeting: $ 13,000
Plumbing: $ 8,000
Electrical: $ 5,500
Walls and drywall: $ 9,000
Signs: $ 2,157
Telephones, faxes, computers: $ 11,800
Rent and lease: $ 48,000
Portables, delivery and set up: $ 49,800
Carpeting: $ 3,000
Emergency windows: $ 900
Walls, doors and paint: $ 1,323
Furniture: $ 20,800
Computers, copiers, etc.: $ 17,813
Source: Pasco County School District