PHOENIX — Years before the demands for higher teacher pay led to a school walkout in Arizona, one of the state's high-profile charter schools found a way to subsidize teachers' income: push parents to pay.
Basis Charter Schools Inc., which operates 20 public charter schools in the state with more than 900 teachers, asks parents to make donations to benefit its teachers, The Arizona Republic reported Monday.
Basis receives per-student funding from the state and cannot charge tuition as a public charter school. It is not illegal for schools to request donations from parents.
The nonprofit company's school in Scottsdale requests at least $1,500 per child each year, according to records obtained by the newspaper. A pledge card from the school noted that the donated money "represents a fraction of the annual cost of a top private school education."
Basis schools received about $84 million in state funding last year. The charter company also received about $5 million in donations, according to its records.
Teachers who work in Basis schools are contracted through Basis.ed, a private company owned by Basis founders Michael and Olga Block, according to Arizona Corporation Commission records.
While the average pay for Arizona public school teachers is a little over $48,000, the average Basis teacher salary is about $41,000, according to Arizona Department of Education records.
Basis teachers can earn merit bonuses of up to $10,000, making their compensations competitive with public school districts in the state, said Peter Bezanson, chief executive of Basis.ed.
Bezanson said an average donation from parents is less than $600.
Parents' donations stay at the school where they were given, Basis Executive Director DeAnna Rowe said. The board over Basis also has authority to supplement bonuses at new schools or schools in low-income areas, she said. Less than half of the parents make donations, she said.
"Basis pays bonuses large enough to motivate our teachers to perform at a level that has made our best-in-the-nation rankings possible," Rowe said.
Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat said he did not know of any other public charter or district school that makes such donations requests.