MaST Charter School Masters the “Business of Education”

May 22, 2010.

 It’s difficult for any enterprise to obtain financing these days. And it’s even harder for charter schools. That’s why it is remarkable that the Math, Science and Technology Community Charter School (MaST) in Northeast Philadelphia has closed on a $15.8 million bond issue–arranged with the help of Santilli & Thomson–to cover debt consolidation and physical plant expansion.

Topping Off Ceremony: May 21, 2010
This past March, MaST Community Charter School broke ground on its new Library, Media, and Technology Center.  On May 21st, at 10 am, MaST celebrated the Topping-Off of the steel structure that will support this wonderful new facility.  At the ceremony, a crane  hoisted a beam to the top of the structure that was signed by Board members, students, teachers, administrators, and parents.

Guest speakers included former City Controller, Jonathan Saidel and PA District 170 State Representative, Brendan Boyle.

They expect to open this 27,000 sq ft, state-of-the-art, student-centered facility in December.

What’s even more remarkable is that its bond offering was rated BBB+ by Standard & Poors—“a rating rarely given to charter schools,” according to Mike Thomson of Santilli & Thomson, advisors to MaST Charter. (Charters in Colorado, and perhaps a few other states that guarantee these type bonds, do get BBB+ ratings or higher; Pennsylvania and most other states do not provide these guarantees.)

“The Math, Science and Technology Community Charter School is a highly regarded charter school in Pennsylvania, as measured by academic achievement, corporate governance and finances,” said Greg McKenna, Director, PNC Capital Markets.  ”We were able to achieve success for this customer because they had a great story to tell, and that allowed us to attract strong demand for their bonds from our institutional investor base, which in turn delivered a better interest rate.”

The MaST bond issue is 2-3 times oversubscribed. This level of investor interest and confidence for a charter school offering is unprecedented.

Financing the New Library Media Center
Of the $15.8 million, MaST is using approximately $7 million to build a new media center atop its current Byberry Road facility, a former steel factory. This new addition will advance the school’s emphasis on science and technology. The remaining funds will be used for debt consolidation.

“Since we don’t have land to build out,” said Karen DelGuercio, MaST Founder and President of the Board, “we have to go up.” Plans call for two additional floors, with 15,000 square feet of space. The top floor will truly be “The Technology Hub of the Future.”

The Technology Hub of the Future
The third floor video studio will allow live production and digital sound recording. A K-12 media program will incorporate the entire school environment. Students and teachers will have the ability to stream to each Promethean Board in every classroom. The infrastructure of the existing buildings will be tied into new infrastructure–allowing downloading to laptops and desktops.

The goal is to provide one computer for each student, which will tie into the wireless mobility and freedom this center offers. In addition to the video studio, the third floor will house two labs. The first lab is the digital design and media lab. The second is an open sign-out lab for students to borrow equipment. The floor will also contain the high school counseling center, where students will be able to work on applications and receive guidance for the future, and a technology center, where the tech support staff and information support offices will function in a single location

Balancing Finance & Academics
MaST Charter, a K-12 school voted 2007 National Charter School of the Year by the US Department of Education, has been able to maintain an excellent financial profile—skillfully balancing business exigencies with the high academic requirements of the school.

Mast has assembled a strong management team and excellent academic advisors.

DelGuercio gives high marks to PNC and McKenna for making this bond issue happen. “Greg knew the territory—he specializes in charter school financing–and he led us through in a very professional and timely manner.”

DelGuercio also credits the school’s outside advisors. “We’ve relied heavily on the expertise of Santilli & Thomson,” said DelGuercio. “They have a deep background in Philadelphia School District work—and specialize in helping Charters. The professionals at PNC and S&T have helped enhance the future educational experience for more than 1,000 Philadelphia students.”