ITHACA, N.Y. — New Roots Charter School says they have received an anonymous donation of $200,000 to help address their financial and enrollment problems.
The SUNY Board of Trustees Charter Schools Committee placed the charter high school on probation in December due to ongoing issues with enrollment, and the school’s failure to stay current on teacher retirement contributions and admitting ineligible students.
According to the release, the local donor’s pledge will support school operations through the 2020-2021 school year.
“This incredible, inspiring and unexpected gift was made by a donor who wants our school to thrive as a resource to young people and our community,” said Tina Nilsen-Hodges, principal and superintendent. “We are deeply grateful for this breathtaking act of philanthropy.”
New Roots’ administration says the school will contribute $80,000 during this school year to begin paying down the debt it owes to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System due to cash flow issues, a move already mandated by the state.
The school will pay the remainder of its debt to the retirement system over the next two years.
In the short-term, New Roots officials will begin holding a series of community meetings in towns across Tompkins County to highlight the school’s academic programs in an effort to boost enrollment.
“We have a solid plan and every reason to feel confident, based on over a decade’s worth of experience,” added Nilsen-Hodges. “Being in this school every day and seeing the good work of the teachers and the students and the energy and excitement — all of that is such an inspiration and we want to share it with our wider community.”
New Roots officials attributed the lower enrollment this year to a historically small freshman class, a smaller senior class, and “unexpected cash-flow issues,” says the release as well as the impact of the New York State vaccination law. The 2019 law, which ended religious exemptions for vaccinations, led a handful of parents to withdraw their children from New Roots and homeschool them
Those cash-flow problems stem from issues with payments from the local school district. Charter schools are tasked with recouping the cost of operating from the school district that their students come from. School leadership says they have had ongoing issues securing payment from some of their student’s districts, namely Ithaca City School District, where more than half of New Roots students hail from.
“SUNY is monitoring the school’s health and well-being during this period of fiscal challenge resulting from unusually low enrollment and unexpected cash-flow issues,” said Jason Hamilton, chair of the New Roots Charter School Board of Trustees. “The plan will provide our students and families with the assurance that New Roots is doing what is necessary to sustain our school, and that we have a solid plan to grow our school’s enrollment and resources in 2020-21.”