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Moon Plans Online Learning Program to Combat Charter School Enrollment

District administrators hope to roll out the program in the fall.

Superintendent Donna Milanovich said the hopes to attract students who have left to enroll in charter schools by offering its own online learning program. 

Milanovich said the district plans to introduce a new cyber learning program for high school students at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. The Moon Area School Board is slated to vote on adoption of the program in May. 

She said 99 Moon and Crescent students this year have left the district to study through charter programs, costing the district more than $1 million in tuition reimbursements.

Under Pennsylvania law, school districts must pay tuition for students who exit the public school system to attend charter programs. 

"We want this to entice people to come back," Milanovich told the Moon Area School Board Monday. "We want them to be a part of the school district." 

Milanovich said the majority of students who leave the district for charter schools are high school students. She said the district lost some $114,000 in tuitition costs this academic year as the result of 11 kindergarten students who are taking charter school classes. 

The majority of Moon-area students enrolled at charter schools take courses at the Midland-based Pennsylvania Charter Cyber School, Milanovich said. 

"Some students left because of performing arts," Milanovich said of students enrolled at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School. "Others because of social issues, bullying and not fitting in. A low number left for religious reasons and some for health reasons." 

Students who enroll in the district-run online courses would obtain a Moon Area School District diploma and have the option to take courses at the high school. Students would be requried to use their own computers to take the courses. 

The program would be a partnership with Seneca Valley School District, which has an online learning program already underway. 

Under an agreement with Seneca Valley, the school district would pay a fee of $25,000 for the first one to 200 students who enroll in the program. Teachers who are needed to instruct a program will receive $500 for the first student enrolled in a course and $181 for each additional students at a cap of $3,020. 

Alan Bennett, director of fiscal services, said if implemented the program would be "budget neutral" for the district because it would enable it to retain money typically paid in tuition reimbursements for individual students. The district contacted 80 area students enrolled in charter schools for feedback on the potential program. 

Assistant high school principal Ashley Porter, who worked in online instruction while employed in the Beaver Falls School District, said the program would enable to the district to monitor student learning performance and prevent truancy. 

"One of the things I know for sure is students who leave and go most of the time they prefer to be in their home district," Porter said. 

Ted Merklin April 25, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I'm trying to get my kindergarten aged child into a charter school so she can have the benefit of full day classes. How does the cost of lost tuition stack up to the cost of FINALLY rolling out an all day program, hmm school board? I grew up in Moon, I left after college, and moved back to Moon as a family because of the positive experience I had here. I'd prefer for my child to attend Moon, but not at the expense of my child's education, when there are better options available. They want to lead the area in education? They need to keep up!!
lynn April 25, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Ted, I watched the meeting on tv, and Mr.Testa asked that very question. Dr.Milanovich said that the majority of children who enrolled in the cyber school for kindergarten are already signed up to attend first grade at Moon. Mr.Testa pointed out that the cost to implement Full Day Kindergarten is approximately $300,000. So if the district can recoup the $114,000 that it spent for the cyber school then the cost to implement FDK would drop to $186,000. Mr.Testa made another motion to approve FDK at the last meeting, but not one other board member would second his motion. It is a travesty that this board absolutely refuses to implement, or even vote, on FDK. FDK is a minimal cost, and the education benefits are tremendous for the students.
Ted Merklin April 25, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I've heard the $300k estimate before, but it hasn't been backed up by any kind of evidence or line-item expenses. The presentation the administration and educators gave showed an initial cost of approximately $60k to backfill some furniture and books - and they provided bids to back up their info. $300k sounds like a scare tactic to get people up in arms, when in reality, the district is losing money to charter schools who are providing the education our community is demanding.
Alex Belohlavek April 25, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Ted, Are you aware that 50% of charter schools perform worse than public schools, while 45% perform the same and only 5% perform better than public education? Not only is your child not obtaining a "better" education by attending a charter school, you are encouraging the collapse of the education system supported under NCLB. Charter schools essentially do no good, but at the same time destroy public education. Consider reading "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" by Diane Ravitch. It's a politically neutral analysis of the effects of education law, and you would be shocked by the amount of damage being done by current educational policy.
Ted Merklin April 25, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Alex - I'm familiar with charter schools, thank you. My wife is a charter school teacher in the area. She originally applied to traditional public schools in the area, but the stagnant pool of "lifers" waiting for a pension make it hard to break into a new district in Western PA. For one position, she was one of 100 applicants, told she would start on new teacher's pay (despite a Level2 cert and 7yrs experience) and the job ended up going to a a district relative. However, she is a talented, caring teacher, and found a position with a charter school that emphasizes experience with the arts, providing opportunity and quality to a group of students, the majority of which would otherwise be languishing in the City School System. I'm sure there are schools that underperform, but my experience with charter schools has been pretty positive. Almost a mix of my Moon education run with shrewd business sense - teachers who don't perform don't stay long. I'll put it this way. My daughter, related to a teacher in the district, is number 43(!) on a waiting list to attend Kindergarten at this school. Tell me, why are so many families looking for an alternative? Charter school, NCLB, and educational law philosophy aside, this is about a district that has promised and promised that one is coming, yet stalls, instead rolling out yet another one of these so-called "public education destroying" alternatives. Want to eliminate the exodus to charter schools? Provide what your taxpayers want!
lynn April 25, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Ted, I don't believe the $300,000 is a scare tactic at all. I have heard Mr.Testa state that figure which is, according to him, the net cost of teachers and materials for the program to be implemented. He also stated that this is an extremely low cost when compared to the overall budget. I believe Mr.Testa, because he is the only board member who is for All Day Kindergarten, and he is fighting to have it implemented next year. The other 8 board members have refused to make a decision, even after promising residents All Day Kindergarten during their campaign.
Ted Merklin April 25, 2012 at 06:43 PM
That's what I was curious about, since I haven't seen a breakdown yet. Is it a net $300k increase to the overall budget, or will all day kindergarten cost $300k, vs half day kindergarten costing $240k? That's a big distinction that needs to be made when tossing around numbers like that.
disappointed April 26, 2012 at 01:24 PM
If the Moon Area School District would listen to the parents then maybe so many students wouldn't want to leave. For example, last night at the middle school many parents went there hoping to find out the math program. Instead, they had us go to short little lectures on each subject with little or no time to ask questions. However they gave everyone a question card to fill out. I went to the meeting to get my question about math answered then! They never discussed how they were going to have all the kids "skip" math 1. Actually, they never discussed math 1. I was very disappointed in the "Curriculum Night." Mrs. Heasley also mentioned that the Board hadn't officially approved the curriculum so I don't know how it was ethical that they had an entire presentation on this material.
Jenna Staul (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Hello, Speaking of curriculum night—we will have a story posted tomorrow about the event, just to let you know. Jenna
disappointed April 26, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Alex, I think you need to check your facts and be a little more specific. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School actually scored higher this year for the first time, than Moon High School. Now the PA Cyber Charter School didn't do as well as either of them. It isn't fair to Lincoln Park to be so generalized in your facts. Lincoln Park is an excellent school and they deserve the recognition!
Teri Shaw April 26, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Lynn is correct. The administration presented to the board during one of their budget meetings that it would cost $300,000 for All-Day K. Some of these costs will be eliminated after the first year because books and supplies will not be needed the next year. It is supported by documentation which was given to each board member.

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