Local view: Edison didn't use public money to build school
It is an exciting new school year for thousands of students across Duluth. Many students are attending new or substantially renovated schools. This also is the case for students enrolled at the Duluth Edison Charter School's new North Star Academ...
It is an exciting new school year for thousands of students across Duluth. Many students are attending new or substantially renovated schools. This also is the case for students enrolled at the Duluth Edison Charter School's new North Star Academy and its updated Raleigh Academy.
Duluth Edison Charter Schools have provided an active and thriving free public school option for families in our community since 1997, and with the completion of a new school serving kindergarten through 8th-graders, it is clear Edison is committed to providing this choice for decades to come.
Although charter schools have existed in Minnesota for 20 years and in Duluth for 14, there remains confusion for some regarding the nature of
charter-school financing vs. traditional public school district funding.
For reasons unclear, when the Minnesota Legislature passed the first charter school authorization law in the country, lawmakers restricted charter schools from owning school facilities. However, they provided a mechanism for state funding of a significant portion of their lease costs, called Lease Aid. This structure left schools renting existing facilities from owners who too often did not want to make investments to bring buildings up to modern, educational standards.
The Legislature also provided a mechanism to acquire or build better educational facilities: the creation of an Affiliated Building Company, which exists solely to support a public charter school. Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. was established as the Affiliated Building Company for the Duluth Public Schools Academy, known as the Duluth Edison Charter Schools.
Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. is fully independent of the Duluth Public Schools Academy, with our own board of directors and corporate structure. Following IRS and state standards, our financial reports are fully public and annually audited; copies are provided to the Minnesota Department of Education for review. We are held to standards established by the IRS, the state Attorney General's Office, the Minnesota Secretary of State and the Minnesota Department of Education.
As the owner of the buildings occupied by the Duluth Edison Charter Schools, the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. financed the purchase, renovation and construction of these facilities through the sale of bonds. Private investors, not local or state taxpayers, invested in Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. and the Duluth Edison Charter Schools. These investors, not taxpayers, assumed all financial risk throughout the 30-year life of these bonds. Thus these buildings are financed via private investment, not public money.
Lease payments from Duluth Edison Charter Schools provide the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. the revenue for repayment of these bonds. State law, administered by the Department of Education, determines the appropriateness of the use of Lease Aid. The law assures that if Lease Aid funds are provided for new facilities the school and Affiliated Building Co. clearly demonstrate the need and ability to maintain programming long-term. The process is called Review and Comment.
Without an Affiliated Building Co. such as Tischer Creek, charter schools are left establishing leases with landlords who often seek only to maximize their own corporate revenues. This happens with limited state oversight and with only basic consideration for the condition of a building in meeting educational needs and in meeting current facility standards.
This project is a wonderful example of private investment for public benefit -- that is, in providing decades of excellent educational options and opportunities for our youth through educationally optimized facilities.
The board of directors of the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. is both proud and committed to providing excellent educational facilities for Duluth Edison Charter Schools' public school students for decades to come.
Paul Goossens is president of the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co., a private nonprofit. He previously served as chairman of the Duluth Public Schools Academy and is a psychologist in private practice. He and his wife have three sons who attended or who attend the Duluth Edison Charter Schools and who have or will graduate from ISD 709 high schools.