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New facility off the table, Horizon superintendent says

Parents must now decide whether to stay with independent study model
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald editor
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Horizon Charter Schools Superintendent and CEO Craig Heimbichner has informed parents of the recently closed school site in Rocklin that due to a bleak financial forecast, the hunt for a new site has ended. Families will now decide if they want their children to learn via independent study, with online support from faculty, or if it’s time to send them to a different school.

On Oct. 11, parents received an email from Heimbichner informing them that, due to safety concerns regarding traffic and students in the parking lot, the school would be closing in just a few days. The Technology Way site was home to 391 students in the third- through eighth-grade ALA and the Rocklin Academy of Science, Math and Engineering for ninth- through 12th-graders. Parents were given the option of having their students participate in independent study, communicating with their teachers online and in meetings.

While the closure sparked a passionate response from parents committed to finding a new site for the project-based charter school, they did give the Horizon administration until Dec. 13 to find a site, after which point they couldn’t guarantee enrollment numbers. On Friday, Heimbichner let them know that a new site is not a possibility.

“First, this crisis was inherited by the current Horizon administration, and the governing board had no access at the time to the recently uncovered facts related to the improper and deceptive landlord’s representation given to both the county and to Horizon,” Heimbichner wrote.

According to the terms of the business license issued for the Horizon Distance Resource Learning center in 2011, daily attendance is limited to 75 students at any one time and no more than 200 students on site throughout the day.

Roseville attorney Glenn Peterson has been hired by Horizon Charter Schools to investigate the terms of the lease for the site. Horizon subleased the site from GroupAccess, which controlled the lease for Horizon’s Technology Way site and other premises in Auburn and Elk Grove. GroupAccess has the master lease from the site's owner, Wells Fargo Bank, and Horizon subleased the site.

Peterson said he found nothing in the sublease to show that Horizon has been made aware of the attendance restrictions.

Heimbichner noted that, as training continued for teachers and administrators, “Horizon’s administration set aside nearly all other operational concerns in order to secure a solution.”

That included making sure insurance covered teachers holding class in public spaces (it does) and reaching out to other schools for help. Even a limited return to Technology Way wasn’t an option, Heimbichner said, “as legal discussions rapidly escalated between Horizon and the third-party landlord.”

Multiple options have been exhausted, he added, including being turned down by a church and the Maidu Center, where only a few days a week of class time would have been available. The Sierra Christian Academy was also an option, but only if Horizon could pay an additional $8,500 per month for the facility (six classrooms).

Heimbichner outlined Horizon’s current financial situation.

- Horizon still pays the landlord $18,000 per month and can’t cease payment, according to legal counsel.

- Legal fees are at $50,000.

- Miscellaneous moving, traffic security and related infrastructure costs total $30,000.

Plus, if Proposition 30 doesn’t pass on Tuesday, the Average Daily Attendance payments will decrease by $455 per student, Heimbichner wrote.

ALA began the year with a revenue deficiency of $78,125, according to Heimbichner. Total revenues were $1,301,645, while expenditures were $1,379,770. He said Horizon continues to fund the program from other sources in its partner charter, working toward a “longer-term goal of fiscal self-sustainability premised on the growth of the program. Nevertheless, the mounting costs and drop in revenue projected above already put the program at a crisis point of projecting a deeply deficient ending balance by next June 30, 2013, the close of the current school year fiscal cycle.”

What that means, Heimbichner wrote, is that Horizon cannot absorb the cost of a new facility.

“It has become clear that parents and families must know immediately that a facility option is off the table and should not be made to wait until Dec. 13,” he wrote. “The administration knows that this notification means that many families will make other choices. These results are completely contrary to anything Horizon would wish to see.”

He concluded by saying that Horizon will continue to support those families who stay with the independent study program, supported by virtual learning and group instruction when possible.

“Horizon truly hopes for success in shifting the delivery model and maintaining both programs through support for independent study and virtual learning. For those who choose other options, our administration wishes each family only the very best success.”