The 28-student Island School enrollment this year is near record lows and the Island School Foundation is now working to prime the academic pump.
Too many students, and especially parents, are missing out on the opportunity to attend a tuition-free, inclusive charter school with top academic credentials, said Island School Foundation President Bayne Stevenson at the Jan. 17 Island School Board meeting.
"This is not an unusual situation in Florida," Stevenson said. "There has been a migration of the work force. We're just going to have to deal with it."
Jean Thompson, first-year Head of Island School
Stevenson told the School Board the enrollment drive is already under way. Eligible families live or work full time on the island.
All island and near-island businesses with employees are being visited by a committee of ambassadors intent on bringing potential school members up the learning curve regarding the kindergarten-through-fifth grade Island School.
"This is a real missed opportunity (for families)," Stevenson said.
What: Island School Tarpon Ball
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23
Where: Amory Chapel grounds
Why: major school fundraiser
The Island School Foundation has always anticipated it would rely heavily on outside support to operate the school, according to Secretary Skip Branin.
Most of The Island School's fixed costs remain static regardless of the number of students - insurance, auditing expenses, cleaning services, utilities and administration expenses.
Other expenses increase along with student population. Last year, with 40 students, The Island School paid one more teacher.
Operating under a charter from the Lee County School District, The Island School receives some operating costs from the Lee County Board of Education but must raise the difference between county funding and the real cost of student education.
An Island School budget gap has been created by declining student counts the past four years.
The Island School was 13 students short of capacity at graduation in 2010 at 45. Island School enrollment was just 38 elementary-age students - 20 under the maximum 58 allowed - in 2011.
Each student equals a potential $10,000 in tuition and related revenues from Lee County so 30 open seats represent about $300,000 in lost potential revenues in 2013.
First-year Head of School Jean Thompson is optimistic the cycle has bottomed.
"Give me a year," Thompson said before the beginning of this school year. "We'll turn this around."
The Island School Foundation works to permit TIS to carry out its mission regardless of public funding. The Tarpon Ball and an Annual Fund drive are the two key school fundraisers.
"Frankly, I don't understand why we don't have a waiting list because TIS provides an incredibly enriching, nourishing environment for learning, controls our own destiny much like an independent school, and does all of this at no cost to the families of our students," Branin said in an e-mail. "How many K-5er's got to read books with Laura Bush or lean about space from Neil Armstrong last year?"