Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2007

Upon further review, no Insight School

February 15, 2007

Insight Schools and the Baldwin School District will no longer be partners in a statewide virtual school.

After signing the contract last month, a discovery was made regarding the Kansas school funding law and the Insight Schools' financial agreement.

The recent discovery showed that a portion of the district's local tax money would be paid to Insight Schools. A small portion of the Local Option Budget would return to the district, but not enough in the eyes of the Baldwin Board of Education.

"Next year we would have to tax the local tax base $2.2 million, instead of $1.47 million," Board Member Scott Lauridsen said. "That's a difference of about $730,000. What that really means is that our local tax base would have to pay for that $730,000. We would have to go in and raise that local mill levy."

Lauridsen said he was glad the problem was revealed before Insight began marketing the new virtual school.

"It just didn't make sense," Lauridsen said. "The good news is we found it before they did a large marketing campaign and signed people. The bad news is that it took this long to get them to a point where they understand what the problem is in finding a district in Kansas."

At Monday's meeting, Lauridsen, who worked with Insight Schools during the past few months, took the blame for the mistake.

"This is something that I should have caught very early on," Lauridsen said. "We were just blinded by solving the revenue problem that we didn't look at the source problem. The good news is we were showing it to as many people as we could.

"To me, the better news is, the contract we put together protected the district," Lauridsen said. "Had this not been discovered until we went to figure out the budget in August, we would have no obligation to raise the mill levy. The people that were really exposed were Insight, because they would be running on a theoretical budget that wasn't going to come true."

Several of the board members did thank Lauridsen for the hours of work that he put in to make the partnership work.

"Scott, I appreciate all of the work that you have done and presented us with," Board Member Lonnie Broers said. "I know your intent was good. It's not your fault."

Board President Alison Bauer agreed with Broers.

"You can blame yourself, but I don't think we blame you," Bauer said. "There are a lot of variables and factors to be looked into. Like you said, it was good that this was discovered before we got any further."

According to Lauridsen, Insight Schools might not be able to find a home in Kansas, because of the state education formula.

"This issue may prevent them from operating in Kansas," Lauridsen said. "The school funding formula may be so prohibitive that an outside organization that needs to generate a profit, probably can't play here. At the minimum, they need to look at districts that don't meet the low enrollment waiting. The only way they are going to be able to do this, is find a district that has very little local tax."

At the Jan. 8 meeting, the school board voted unanimously to approve the contract with Insight Schools after board attorney Bob Bezek recommended it.

The commitment to move forward on the contract was made at the December meeting.

Insight Schools originally began talking about coming to Baldwin with former Baldwin High School Principal Allen Poplin. Then, the discussion fizzled out during the school board's search for a new superintendent last spring.

In the fall, Insight Schools came back to Baldwin and began talking about a possible partnership again.

Insight Schools is a statewide virtual high school that is looking for a home in Kansas. For more than a year, it has been working with the Baldwin district to create its Kansas base here in Baldwin City.

It offers a tuition-free virtual school with a wide array of classes that are offered. More information can be found on its Web site at www.insightschools.net.

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