Esperanza school in serious trouble

The future of Esperanza Academy, a school for at-risk teens, is up in the air because of severe money problems. "Basically, it comes down to Kathy (Perko) is spending money she doesn’t have," said Matt Ryan, Coconino County Supervisor for District 3, which includes Williams. "She’s $229,000 over budget."

Currently, 12 Williams students are being bused to attend the Flagstaff school.

Perko is the former Coconino County Superintendent of Schools. Her tenure ended on Dec. 31. The newly elected county school superintendent is Cecilia Owen. Ryan said the final decision about Esperanza’s future is in Owen’s hands.

"We’re giving the new superintendent a chance to work things out," he said. "She has a $485,950 budget, but her expenses (to keep running Esperanza) would run $604,600.

"We’ll try and work with her on that."

The supervisors approved the $485,950 fiscal year 2001 budget in August to cover at-risk, jail and juvenile detention education. Ryan said it would take time for Owen to consider the issue.

"We haven’t shut its doors, but I don’t know how we can continue with a deficit," he said.

The school year for Esperanza ends in June.

To try and stop Perko from spending any more money, the supervisors had the county attorney send a letter to her Dec. 18 which revoked her authority to sign contracts or make financial commitments without prior supervisor’s approval. The board also held an emergency meeting Dec. 19.

"We needed to call a halt to any potential contracts she may have signed," Ryan said.

Part of the problem is Perko’s apparent lack of management, Ryan said.

"We required a budget from her — she wasn’t giving us a full budget," he said. "It gives me pause that she could do it for seven years but couldn’t her last year."

According to an article in the Daily Sun Dec. 19, the superintendent’s first quarter report for FY 2000 reported revenues of just $20,120, or 8.7 percent of those budgeted for the total year. By the end of the first quarter, revenues should have been around 25 percent.

To figure out where the money is, the supervisors ordered a procedural audit of the county superintendent’s budget, which is set to begin soon and be finished by the end of January.

The supervisors also required Perko to come up with a balanced 2001 budget, as well as a timeline for continued operations, by the end of December, which she didn’t comply with, Ryan said.

"I think she wanted to leave her legacy with Esperanza," he said.

Ryan said the board of supervisors doesn’t want to close the schools — one in Flagstaff and a distance learning center in the Grand Canyon — aimed at helping youth "at-risk" of not graduating high school.

"Our concern is we can’t have a school that’s running in debt," he said. "I think we can finance it, but it’s going to hurt something else."

Ryan said drug prevention, victim witness, judges, jurors and more receive funding through the board of supervisors.

"There are support needs in many other forms," he said.

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