Back to the drawing board

State urges school officials to continue talks

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— The north Routt charter school is on its way out of the board room and into the classroom.

Representatives from the charter school, which appealed conditions the Steamboat School Board placed on its recent approval to the state board of education, said Tuesday the state board's decision bodes well for them.

The state board found a number of the conditions the local school board placed on the approval to be "contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district or community," at a hearing May 10. The state board's decision, however, seemed to do little more than instruct the local school board and the charter school to negotiate some of the conditions.

The two parties have lawyers negotiating the terms for them.

A charter school is a public school funded with public money that comes out of the local school district. It is established under a contract or "charter" with the district that, in the case of the north Routt charter school, will last for three years. After the three years is up, the school can go back to the school board and renegotiate.

Though the state board left many of the conditions up to negotiations between the school board and the charter school, some of the charter school's requests may have been met. Potentially one of the most important conditions amended by the state was a request that the district pay the charter school its "state" funding in July of this year.

To the charter school board, that means that the district would have to cough up the per-pupil funding it receives primarily from county property taxes. That could amount to about $110,000, depending on the number of students who go from the established district elementary schools to the charter school.

To district representatives, however, the provision necessitates that the district pay the charter school only the state money it receives, which comes from state income taxes and is minimal in Steamboat Springs.

State income tax money is doled out to districts if they do not have enough money to fund their schools it is an equalizer to help poorer districts fund their schools at the same level as richer ones. Because Steamboat is on the richer end of that equation, it does not get much state money for that purpose about $149,250 in the 2000-2001 fiscal year, as compared to the approximately $10 million it took in property taxes.

State money is also used to pay for certain special education needs.

The district and the charter school board are in the process of negotiating the contract, and the conditions placed on the charter school that were meant to be set in stone and were subsequently appealed to the state board will now also have to be negotiated. The boards are supposed to reach agreement by June 9, said Steamboat Springs School Superintendent Cyndy Simms.

District school board members said the decision is not a setback to the district because the two groups were already negotiating.

Meanwhile, the charter school is in the process of hiring its first teacher.

The school expects to hire either two full-time teachers or one full-time teacher and two part-time teachers. The deadline for returned applications was Saturday.

Currently, the charter school is planned to be located in the Moonhill Schoolhouse, though the charter school board members are looking to move the school and say they may be announcing a new location soon.

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