Columbus charter school to close

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Imagine your child's school closing right in the middle of the year. That's just what happened at a Columbus charter school dealing with a financial shortfall.

Inside the International School in Columbus Wednesday, it looked and felt like the last week of the school year. For these students it probably is - for all the wrong reasons.

"Friday is gonna be a bad day," said 10th grader Braidon Simmons.

That's when the International School will close its doors, sending more than 100 students and 22 staffers away.

A vote by the board Wednesday night to dissolve the school confirmed its fate.

"I'm really nervous and scared for Friday because I don't want to leave this school," said 9th grader Karen Torres. "This is like my family."

"I was getting A's, B's and C's here. That's great for me," Simmons added. "I was proud of myself here! And for them to tell me I have to go somewhere else?"

Students and staff learned of the potential closure just a few days ago. School leaders say it all came down to money.

"Rough week, yes," said board chair Rich Wagner, who also has two children enrolled at the International School.

The school, which offers an international baccalaureate program for 7th-12th graders, needed $250,000 to keep operating through the end of the year.

Without a major last-minute donation, they now have to surrender their charter back to Ball State University.

"We really rely on grants and donations," Wagner explained. "The grants that have come in over the past four years, they're drying up."

"It's very sad that we have to close our school because of finances," added Head of School Jonah Sims, who moved his own family 3,000 miles five years ago to run the school.

School leaders say part of the financial problem stemmed from unexpected additional construction costs at a building they'd planned to rent for expansion and growth.

They also had difficulty fundraising and lost money from the state because of an enrollment drop, when the construction delay meant they couldn't move into the new building this year.
School leaders say their issue in Columbus also points to a larger problem for charter schools statewide.

"As a charter school, we get funded about 47% of what the local school corporations get," Sims said. "We should have the opportunity to get the same amount of money local school corporations do. After all, we're a public school and have to abide by the same standards."

"What charter schools have to come up with and what we're faced against is we have to come with money for facilities and money for transportation," Wagner said. "Having a per student facility grant would help small schools."

But now, at a school that boasted 100% college attendance from its graduates last year, teachers are looking for new jobs and students are having to transfer to Bartholomew County Schools in the middle of the year.

"When you have students achieving and have them excelling and then to just have to stop that option makes it very difficult," Wagner said.

Students also feel they're paying the price for a money problem at a place they loved.

"It's got everybody distraught," Simmons said. "I'm dreading Friday because I know there's going to be a lot of tears shed Friday."

Although the last day will likely be Friday, the school does plan to make arrangements for some students to attend next week if they still haven't found a new school.