Cortez Hill Academy, a charter high school in downtown San Diego, is closing at the end of this year, citing more than $600,000 in outstanding loans and fees and an added financial hit from state budget cuts. Its board voted last Tuesday to shut down the school.
“Cortez Hill is currently not financially viable to successfully open the School and begin the 2009-10 school year,” the board wrote in a letter to San Diego Unified.
The school had long suffered from financial problems. You might remember from my article on charter school leader Michael Hazelton that Cortez Hill Academy was running a deficit in 2006 when the school hired him. Its deficit ballooned from $16,559 to $188,187 in the single year it employed Hazelton as its executive director. Hazelton has said he was not to blame for its fiscal woes.
Cortez Hill “has its challenges because the people there really didn’t have a business sense,” Hazelton said in an interview for that article. “… I just inherited a tough timing situation.”
It looks like the financial straits of Cortez Hill have only deepened since them. The letter from its board to San Diego Unified mentions that it owes about $300,000 in fees to San Diego Unified for oversight and services, more than $300,000 in two outstanding bank loans, and will likely be hit with budget cuts totaling between $50,000 and $75,000 this year.
Charter schools such as Cortez Hill are run independently with public funding. Unlike most public schools, they must manage their own budgets — a burden that can prove overwhelming to some schools. And school districts such as San Diego Unified sometimes end up footing the bill when their finances go awry.