Education

Macon Charter Academy readying for debut

The first day of school can bring its share of challenges, and Macon Charter Academy is facing more than most.

Since construction of its new building won’t be finished by Aug. 3, the new charter school’s students will spend the first week of school — maybe more — learning within the Macon Coliseum.

Still, co-founder Monya Rutland is unfazed.

“We’re very excited to be starting school on Aug. 3 at the Centreplex, where we can launch what we believe is going to be a very exciting and engaging educational opportunity for the scholars of Macon Charter Academy,” Rutland said.

MCA notified parents at a July 23 meeting that it plans to have an open house Aug. 9 and will commence classes in its new building starting Aug. 10.

However, the building will not be ready for students by then, a construction official said. The contract date to turn over the school is not until Aug. 17, said Steve Moore, superintendent for Triangle Construction.

Even after the building is handed over, it will need an inspection and a certificate of occupancy. Workers also will need to move in equipment, furniture and more.

Tom Buttram, director of Macon-Bibb Business Development Services, said an occupancy certificate can’t be granted until the building is “ready to be turned loose” from a code standpoint. That means all the building’s systems — from electrical to plumbing, as well as fire alarms and sprinkler systems, have to be in place.

“Our inspectors have been out there since day one off and on making inspections through the course of the job,” he said. “We’ll be ready when they’re ready.”

Buttram added that his department has always accommodated schools that are “on a tight schedule” this time of year.

“We want the building to be ready when school starts,” he said. “This is something that’s not really new to us.”

Provided that MCA has everything in place and all the paperwork is filled out, Buttram said a certificate of occupancy can be turned around in a matter of hours.

“Our job is to be there when needed,” he said. “And that’s what we plan to do.”

Rutland acknowledged that there are “some birthing pains” when it comes to charter school start-ups, but added that whatever the pain, “it makes it worthwhile” in the long run.

A charter school is a public school that operates under the terms of a charter, or contract, that grants it a measure of freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable to advance student achievement.

UNEXPECTED COSTS

Holding classes at the Coliseum also comes at a price.

Generally, the cost of renting three areas of the Macon Coliseum complex could run up to $10,000 a day, according to Roland Biron, director of sales and marketing at Macon Marriott City Center.

That total can vary greatly, though, depending on the type of package and services provided. Some clients, such as nonprofit groups or charities, can get a discount of up to 50 percent.

Biron could not give the exact cost being charged to MCA or say what areas it was renting, but the Bibb County school district’s recent convocation — held in the Coliseum arena — cost a little more than $5,700, according to a district invoice.

Charter school parents were initially told at the July 23 meeting that students would start their day with breakfast at the arena, then have “breakout sessions” in various locations nearby.

Rutland said those plans are “fluid” and subject to change, however. She projects that MCA will be spending about $400 per day.

MCA has been operating on a shoestring budget, she said, because the school has yet to receive any of the tax proceeds it is entitled to from the district — about $6,000 per student from the state’s education funding formula and an unspecified amount from local district funds.

That should be in the offing, once enrollment is verified.

“In order to make any payment, whether it’s for goods or for services or whatever, we — as accountants — have to have supporting documentation for that,” said Ron Collier, the district’s chief financial officer.

The Bibb school district uses the data management system Infinite Campus to support and verify a school’s student registration.

The charter school had 85 students registered in the Infinite Campus system as of Friday, but Rutland said MCA is expecting an enrollment of more than 800 students.

Before Collier releases funds to MCA, he said he needs that supporting documentation from Infinite Campus.

“When I release those funds, I’m going to be releasing all — (Quality Basic Education) and local funds,” he said. “But I’m only going to do one-twelfth at a time. And the reason I do one-twelfth is because that’s how I get funded. We get funded one-twelfth every month.”

The lack of funds hasn’t stopped MCA’s operations. Rutland said many people in the community have “come out of the woodwork” to offer any kind of support they can to the school.

She estimated that MCA has received at least $10,000 from community donors.

Despite the hurdles, Rutland has been steadfast in her resolve to march MCA forward.

“Already we’ve seen changes in the educational landscape,” she said. “We are looking forward to opening and just really appreciate the genuine support of our parents and community partners.”

Daryl Morton, a Bibb school board member, told The Telegraph that as a parent, “You’re always going to be concerned when a school doesn’t open on time.”

Morton added, though, that he hopes MCA will reach out to the school district for the benefit of its expertise if its leaders have any questions or issues.

MCA’s pupils are public school students who deserve the same education as every other student in the county, several county officials said.

“We’re here to help if we can,” Morton said. “I want them to be open as soon as possible.”

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382 or find him on Twitter @davidcschick.

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