School Board rejects gift

$265,000 would have bought N. Routt charter school land

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The group of investors that owns the North Routt Community Charter School property appears to be running out of options and time after the Steamboat Springs School Board rejected a $265,000 gift to purchase the land in Clark.

The gift, offered to the school district by the Education Fund Board, would have covered most of the investment group's $365,000 asking price. The remaining $100,000 would have come from a historical preservation grant that expires July 15.

School Board members unanimously voted to reject the gift at their meeting Monday night. Members gave a variety of reasons for the decision, including the district's inability by law to charge rent to the charter school and restrictions on renegotiating the charter school's contract so district ownership of the land would be cost-neutral.

School Board member Pat Gleason also questioned the educational benefit of the district acquiring the property.

"I don't see the value to the district of owning this asset," Gleason said. "We are in the education business, not the funding business."

Gleason also questioned the 3-year-old charter school's stability in the wake of declining enrollment and a search for a new director.

"I think the school right now is in a state of flux, and I'm very hesitant to hamstring the district with an asset that's not meeting the educational (obligations) of the district," Gleason said.

School Board President Paula Stephenson voted against the gift for a different reason.

"I think there are a number of problems with this, but first and foremost this is the Education Fund Board driving district policy, and that can't happen," Stephenson said.

Despite the unanimous vote, several School Board members expressed hope a deal could be arranged directly between the Fund Board and Elk River Eagles LLC, the investor group that owns the property.

Elk River Eagles originally purchased the property as part of an effort to help ensure the young charter school's success. But with its investors unable or unwilling to pay the mortgage, the group has been looking to sell the property.

The Fund Board's Capital Commission brought the idea forward largely because of the investment potential in the property. The property, which includes three buildings, was appraised at $450,000 -- $85,000 more than the asking price.

Last week, the Fund Board approved the gift to the district even though its members knew the School Board might not accept it. It's unclear whether the Fund Board will seek to purchase the property itself, though that possibility was discussed extensively at the last Fund Board meeting. A majority of Fund Board members agreed to see whether the School Board would take ownership of the property before deciding whether they would take on the investment.

Fred Wolf, managing partner of Elk River Eagles, previously said the North Routt Community Charter School's future could depend on the sale of the property.

In other business:

Also on Monday, the School Board accepted an $80,000 Fund Board gift for the salary and benefits of a district grant writer. The board also accepted a $1,000 Fund Board gift that will be used to investigate vocational certification programs for district students.

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