After spending more than a year trying to dig itself out of a deficit, Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods' financial woes may be over.

Leonora Hall, who took over as KRECR's director in March, said this year's ending fund balance will show that the deficit, which was $148,000 at the end of the 2012andndash;13 school year, has been whittled down to between $15,000 and $30,000. She expects the K-12 charter school to be debt free by the end of the 2014andndash;15 school year.

In the meantime, the charter school received permission from the Del Norte Planning Commission last week to construct a fire escape on its second floor. This will allow students to resume classes on the second floor, Hall said, which she hopes will boost KRECR's enrollment.

"We have 68 students, but the school can hold 82," she said. "The Planning Commission gave us our building permit for a fire exit and we're working with Nolan Construction to get a lot of stuff done here."

Hall replaced former director Bernadette Johnson, who left KRECR to become a therapist, according to Samantha Hunt, chair of the school's Board of Directors. As soon as they learned Johnson was leaving, the board posted the job opening on Craig's List and found applicants from as far away as Washington state.

But they wound up with a local girl whose education experience includes being an administrator at the Brookings-Harbor School District and the Klamath Trinity School District in Hoopa. Hall, who received a Bachelor's in education from Evergreen State College and a Master's degree from Central Washington University, has 13 years of teaching experience in grades four through 12. Hall was born and raised in Crescent City and sits on the Smith River Rancheria Tribal Council.

"With Leonora, we knew she had a lot of administrative experience, having been principal and vice principal at a junior high in Brookings and a school in Hoopa," Hunt said. "We weren't stuck on having somebody local, but it's good to have a little local influence, someone who knows our population, knows the people we are working with and the school district that we work with."

Before Johnson resigned, the KRECR board and staff had been working hard to get the charter school out of debt.

The school's original deficit was created largely due to the school mistakenly using restricted scholarship funds to close a deficit in its unrestricted fund balance. KRECR, which reported the deficit to the County Office of Education in December 2012, had been using a local firm to keep track of its books, but the firm wasn't experienced in educational finance, Hunt said.

As it worked to overcome the budget deficit, KRECR began working with EdTec, a bookkeeping consultant that specializes in charter schools. To save money, the school closed its Klamath campus last year.

Despite concern over KRECR's finances, the Office of Education in August allowed KRECR to reopen for the 2013andndash;14 school year.

As the year has progressed, KRECR's financial picture is steadily improving, said Tim Hoone, treasurer for the KRECR board. He expects the school to be completely out of debt and doing well by the middle of the 2014andndash;15 school year and hopes to begin building a reserve fund by the end of next year.

"State law requires a 5 percent reserve. Typically schools run a little bit more than that," Hoone said. "Next year our goal would be to end the year with at least that reserve. That's what ensures your financial viability, cash flow and everything else."

However, KRECR's ability to recruit students has been hampered by a state requirement that schools with upper stories be equipped with a fire escape, Hunt said. But with the Healthcare District's help and the Planning Commission's permission, the school expects to have a new fire escape soon.

"The building is not really made for a school," she said. "But the Healthcare District is completely on board with helping us make changes to allow us to use that upstairs."

Hall said to help alleviate cramped conditions in the school's first floor classrooms, she may move grades seven through 12 upstairs. She also plans to put a computer lab upstairs.

Fundraising efforts will also continue. KRECR will be holding a rummage sale on May 3, Hall said, and is inviting parents to participate.

Hunt said she also hopes to hold a quarter-craze, which will allow home-based businesses such as Mary Kay representatives to auction off their wares while the proceeds benefit the school. Participants bid on the items using quarters, Hunt said.

The school is also selling t-shirts and sweatshirts made by local graphic arts business Bear Island Design, Hunt said.

"I hope everyone knows we're on the upswing and we're really working hard," she said. "We believe in our (teaching) model and we believe in our kids. We have amazing kids."