Southwest Charter School promised it would be different from Kansas City's troubled public schools -- so far it hasn't made the grade.

Unchartered Waters 

Southwest Charter School promised it would be different from Kansas City's troubled public schools -- so far it hasn't made the grade.

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"Charter schools are in their infancy level, and we want to make sure everything is on track," says Beacon's marketing director, Carol Wing. "The way that Beacon complies [with the law] is that we are a service provider. The board is the governing body, and we are the service arm, if you will." Wing says Southwest's board makes its own decisions, although Beacon will step in from time to time to make suggestions.

Beacon's role is not necessarily for profit, Wing says, though the company's fee for managing Southwest's second year is $326,361. That figure, combined with the first year's fee, makes the school in debt to Beacon for more than a half million dollars. The most recent budget shows Southwest Charter School expecting to finish in the black by $15,521 by the end of its current fiscal year. But Sherron Bauer, a former Kansas City school district administrator who now works as Beacon's associate director of school operations in Missouri, says the budget is being revised and will be presented to Southwest's board at its next meeting later this month.

"We have all new textbooks and all new materials, and I've had complete autonomy to use what was budgeted for staff development and classroom supplies," Bruno says. "I've felt like it's been Christmas. I've gotten things that I like, and my teachers have gotten things they like."

But as it stands, a number of major concerns -- including whether Southwest can retain residence in its current location and whether the school can make good on a promise to hold summer school (the school has yet to announce the specifics of its summer-school program) -- could darken Bauer's mood. Without a summer program, the school could lose substantial revenue -- summer school is projected to bring in $338,031.

And because of the school's chilly relationship with the Kansas City school district, which is charging Southwest $172,870 this year to rent the old Southwest building, Southwest may be looking for its third home in three years come summer -- a financially dismal prospect, considering that Beacon invested $300,000 in restoring the building. "I'm sure the question will arise before long as to whether the district will let us continue to the use the building," Bauer says. "But that's between the Southwest board and the district."

Neither has agreed on much. And without the school district's largesse, Southwest could be out of luck. "The pickin's were pretty slim," Bauer recalls of the school's last search for a home. "We didn't get into the building until late last summer and we had looked at some commercial buildings that I can't even remember. But I think there were two or three commercial buildings that were an option."

The bad blood between Southwest Charter School and the KCMSD is spilling into more than the building issue. Southwest board president Lloyd says the district can't cope with competition. "I think the school district and people who don't like competition in the area have long claimed charter schools are a mechanism for skimming the best students out of public schools," Lloyd says. "We've shown that lots of people want choices -- the ones doing well and the ones not doing well. They want a better school.

"Various people on the [Kansas City] school board have said they don't want us to be there, but we think we've earned the right to be there," Lloyd continues. "If [the school board] wants us out, they have to vote to kick us out."

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