Edison Charter Schools makes midyear budget cuts

Perhaps most noticeable for students and parents are the four days that school leaders agreed to cut from the school year itself.

North Star Academy is one of two schools operated by Duluth Edison Charter Schools.
Clint Austin / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Edison Charter Schools cut about $500,000 from its budget and four days from its school year to address smaller-than-anticipated enrollment and other shortfalls.

Staff at Edison, which has an enrollment of about 890 students, predicted earlier this year a $678,000 deficit for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. School leaders agreed in February to make spending cuts to narrow that gap to $184,000.

The charter school system’s initial $17.9 million budget for the year, approved in June, anticipated about 950 students would enroll and predicted a total deficit of approximately $50,000. But enrollment losses and less-than-budgeted-for special education aid, as well as aid for building leases, pushed that figure considerably higher.

Cuts as of early February are the net equivalent of four full-time positions: one custodian, one English teacher, one social studies teacher and an across-the-board reduction to on-site nursing that cut one health assistant. A now-vacant substitute teacher position won't be filled.

Beyond that, administrators' salaries were reduced by the equivalent of four to five days worth of pay each year, and non-administrators’ salaries were reduced by about one day worth of pay.


North Star Academy (K-8), pictured at 3301 Technology Drive, is one of two schools is the Duluth Edison Charter Schools system. The other school, Raleigh Academy (K-5), is located at 5905 Raleigh St.
Tyler Schank / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

To cover for the now laid-off teachers, Edison leaders also agreed to reshuffle the schools' administration to cover for the two teachers who were laid off.

In all, those “staff savings” could save Edison about $224,000 this year, according to documents supplied to board members earlier this year.

Also reduced are “non-instructional” budgets for staff that cover training, technology and other expenses.

The charter school's board voted unanimously earlier this month to make Tammy Rackliffe their new head of schools. She's been the interim head since August.

Perhaps most noticeably for students and parents, though, are the four days that Edison leaders agreed to trim from the end of the school year. That means the last day of classes is set to be June 1 instead of June 7.

In all, those “non-staff savings” would reduce Edison's spending by about $338,000.

Those cuts, according to documents supplied to Edison board members, would still mean a deficit of about $184,000 this school year. Tammy Rackliffe, Edison’s head of schools, said that the charter’s budget looks like it’ll end up more or less balanced by the end of the year.

That’s largely because Edison administrators haven’t replaced an outdoor education teacher and a social worker who both resigned since the cuts earlier this year, and because the school secured COVID grant money that reimburses it for air filters, cleaning, testing and other services it has already performed.

The social worker position is set to be covered by existing staff, Rackliffe said, and a team of specialists are now covering for the now-departed outdoors teacher.


Edison officials also plan to put the four cut school days back into next year’s school calendar.

Both settlement agreements state that Duluth Edison Charter Schools denies all liability and wrongdoing.

“We just cut them this year for the savings,” Rackliffe told the News Tribune. “Next year’s budget will be next year’s budget. ... The declining enrollment, as it has for many schools, caught us off-guard.”

If enrollment doesn’t meet projections in a future year, Rackliffe said, administrators will adjust staffing accordingly rather than cut school days.

The initial budget for this school year — the projected $50,000 deficit — assumed the K-8 school system would enroll about 950 students. About 900 students actually came through the door this year, according to state records.

The school enrolled a bit more than 1,400 students across all nine grades it serves in the 2016-17 school year — a 10-year peak, according to Minnesota Department of Education data. That figure fell to about 1,000 students in the 2020-21 school year and to 908 this school year.

Charter schools like Edison are public schools that are managed by one of 13 state-approved “authorizers.” Edison’s authorizer is Innovative Quality Schools, a Hutchinson, Minnesota-based nonprofit.

They’re funded in a way that’s fundamentally similar to traditional school districts like Duluth Public Schools: per-student funding from the state, money to help pay their leases, money to help pay for maintenance, as well as many of the same assorted other grants and aid.

Unlike traditional districts, though, Minnesota charters aren’t allowed to levy local property taxes. That means that charter schools in the state, on average, receive about 10%-15% less funding than traditional districts, according to Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools.


It also means that charters’ financial health is more tightly tied to yearly enrollment than their counterparts at a traditional district, Piccolo said. Longstanding traditional districts presumably have more cash reserves than most charter schools, and money from property tax levies is largely determined by property values in a district.

“Once the levy’s set,” Piccolo said, “it doesn’t make a difference how many kids they serve. They’re going to get the levy because it’s based on property values, not on the number of kids. Whereas charter schools are totally dependent on their income … based on the number of kids, not based on kids and property values.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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