Waste Not, Why Not?

Excess school savings


The Web site for the Massachusetts State Auditor's Office proudly displays the motto, "The Cruelest Tax of All Is Waste." The same agency has agreed to audit 43 of the state's charter schools for saving too much money.

The Boston-based Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) called for the audit after discovering that the charter schools had $37 million in reserve funds, while Massachusetts' school districts have budget shortfalls. This despite the fact that, unlike traditional public schools, Massachusetts' charter schools must pay for their facilities out of their per-pupil funding.

CPS analyst Paul Dunphy argues that the unspent funds should be returned to the school districts. Local charter school operators contend that saving money is legal and point out that most of the reserves came from private donations. Community Day Charter School, for example, has about $1.3 million in savings, most of it from a fund-raising campaign and earmarked for building renovations.