"After running deep deficits, Osceola County charter schools are enjoying better financial health this year.
Improvements, school district officials say, came in part because the largest charter school manager in the county, Imagine Schools Non-Profit Inc., forgave a significant amount of the schools' debt. But officials also attribute the change to better management practices that curbed expenses and gave more control of school finances to principals."
"Debts were accumulated when charter schools were created, but money shortages became acute when state funds to support them were significantly reduced."
"Imagine also gave schools local control of their finances, allowing them to save money. Basics such as electricity and water bills, formerly approved by a corporate office hundreds of miles away, became the purview of principals in individual schools.
"'Before, if someone got an electric bill, someone paid it,' said foundation President Tom Tompkins. 'Now, if an electric bill comes in, a principal is going to look at it and say, "Gee, that's a high bill. Let's turn the AC off after we go home."'
"At Kissimmee Charter Academy, for example, Principal JoAnn Kandrac said her school saved $50,000 per year after it was allowed to hire a less expensive maintenance crew.
"The decentralization of charter school finances occurred in 2004 after Imagine merged with Chancellor Beacon Academies, a for-profit company previously in charge of running most charter schools in Osceola.
"Imagine Schools became a nonprofit company last year.
"A different corporate philosophyone that is willing to forgo payments at least for some timecontributed to the financial improvement.
"'We want schools to be sustainable, but ultimately this company does not make a profit,' said Fred Damiano, regional vice president for Imagine. 'This company has a culture of sharing decisions and prefers a bottom-up approach.'" ...