Charter school appeals 'approval'

North Routt officials call Steamboat district's decision a mockery

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— The North Routt Charter School Board made good this week on a threat to appeal a decision by the Steamboat School Board, which placed a number of conditions on the charter school's approval the board feels are unfair.

The charter board members have hired a lawyer and will have their case heard in front of the state Board of Education, which will set a hearing date in the next 30 to 60 days.

The charter school was approved on Jan. 29 and plans to open this fall with 18 or more students in the Moonhill Schoolhouse just south of Clark.

Based on the conditions of approval, however, the school would not receive funding from the district until at least February. The district structured the flow of cash to the school to begin in the spring, because that's when it receives its property tax money.

The timing of the per-pupil funding is the issue most unacceptable to the charter school board, said board member Sandy Clark. The notice of appeal states the decision to delay the funding "makes a mockery of the local board's 'approval' of the charter."

The school board, however, has asserted its concerns about protecting its own interests, which translate into the interests of the students at the district's existing schools.

"We're asking them to live with the very same circumstances we have to live with," said School Board President Dan Birch. "The conditions were primarily motivated to minimize the financial impacts to the school district."

Birch said the school board will be discussing strategies to deal with the appeal in an executive session Monday.

The school district already has one of its lawyers in Denver working on the case, said District Superintendent Cyndy Simms.

The charter board honed in on a total of eight of the board's conditions in the appeal, most of them financial considerations.

"We're not asking for anything that isn't what all the other charter schools get," Clark said.

The charter school is a public school and, though it will maintain its own board, it is entitled to the same property tax-based funding the district receives.

The school was approved for 95 percent of the district's per-pupil funding for each student that moves from the existing schools to the charter school. That means the district will have to swallow what could amount to at least a $100,000 loss, Simms said.

The school is registered as a nonprofit organization and can apply for grants and loans as such.

It has, in fact, received $10,000 from the Walton Foundation for its planning budget that will pay for a portion of the legal fees involved in the appeal.

Clark is also finishing up a grant application for $75,000 from the state Department of Education. The charter school's main guaranteed source of funding, however, comes in the form of the per-pupil dollars.

The charter board is hoping to get its funding in quarterly installments rather than waiting until the spring, with the first quarterly payment coming in June.

The problem with the way the school board approved the project, as far as the charter school board is concerned, is that it placed too many inflexible conditions on the approval rather than allowing the two boards to negotiate those issues. After the school board approved the charter, the two groups had 90 days to negotiate a contract.

"Some of the conditions that were not negotiable are ones that we didn't have a chance to respond to," said Mary Bramer, a north Routt resident who is also on the School Accountability Committee.

School board member Tom Sharp emphasized that the board was simply attempting to protect itself legally and financially.

"The safe thing for this district is to put the conditions that we see as very significant in the motion," Sharp said at the Jan. 29 meeting. "I don't think there's an aura of not wanting this to succeed."

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