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Cyber Charter School to Buy Office Space for Remote Teaching

Commonwealth Charter Academy in Pennsylvania, which saw its enrollment skyrocket as regular school districts struggled with remote learning, has agreed to purchase an office building in Moosic with cubicles for teachers.

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(TNS) — The state's largest cyber charter school plans to purchase an office building on Montage Mountain.

Commonwealth Charter Academy entered into an agreement of sale for the former Cigna building, located at 53 Glenmaura National Boulevard, according to an application filed with the Moosic Zoning Board. The property is located in both Scranton and Moosic.

The potential sale would have an impact on tax revenue, since the cyber school would be exempt from paying property taxes. School district leaders, who often lament the costs of cyber charter schools and call for reform, say they would lose tax revenue at the same time their tuition payments to charter schools grow. The property generates about $280,000 in tax revenue for the Scranton and Riverside school districts.

CCA, with about 21,000 students, saw enrollment skyrocket during the pandemic, as districts struggled with virtual learning. Most of those families have not returned to traditional public schools. Cyber charter schools are free for families, and home school districts pay for students to attend.

The office building in Moosic will have cubicles for teachers, who will deliver live, remote instruction to students. It will look more like a business office instead of a traditional school, CCA wrote in its application for a special exception with the Moosic Zoning Board. The school plans to use a portion of the first floor and all of the second floor for its operations. Tenants would occupy the third floor and the remaining portion of the first floor. Efforts to reach officials from the cyber school were unsuccessful Tuesday. CCA, based in Harrisburg, also has a location in Dickson City.

The Moosic Zoning Board approved the exception last month, giving the school permission to operate in a "planned development zone." Scranton City Planner Don King said operating a school was already permitted in the city's portion of the property and his office has provided a letter that the use would be acceptable.

It was not immediately clear if the entire property would become tax exempt or if CCA would have to pay taxes on the portion of the building potentially occupied by tenants.

The Scranton School District receives about $240,000 in property taxes from the parcel yearly. District Business Manager Patrick Laffey said while the change would put a hole in the budget, the district plans conservatively, knowing assessments can be appealed and properties can become tax-exempt.

The current owner of the property — 53 Glenmaura LLC of Brooklyn, New York — appealed its tax assessment to the Lackawanna County Board of Assessment Appeals, and then to the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, in an effort to lower its tax bill.

In an initial appeal to the assessment board, the assessment on the Scranton parcel for 2023 of $1,881,920, comprised of $92,880 on land and $1,769,040 on improvements, was reduced to $1,681,920, comprised of $92,880 on land and $1,569,040 on improvements.

The assessment on the Moosic parcel of $298,080, comprised of $123,120 on land and $174,960 on improvements, was reduced to $222,080, comprised of $123,120 on land and $98,960 on improvements. The owner then appealed to county court Oct. 28, arguing the reduced assessments are still excessive. The city and borough would also lose tax revenue.

Riverside collects $38,000 annually from the current property owners. District leaders, including Riverside Superintendent Paul Brennan, said they will monitor the tax situation and sale closely.

"If any assessments decline, it basically is a loss of revenue," he said. "Services we provide then take a hit."

©2022 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.