Steamboat Springs The North Routt Community Charter School is experiencing sharp growing pains this year as expanding enrollment runs into a shrinking budget, even as the school attempts to increase capacity.
The Clark school, home to 58 students, has expanded consistently for several years but is faced with budget shortfalls. Despite the lack of space and money, parents and students have remained committed to the school's outdoors- and community-based education.
Founded in 2001, the school on a three-building lot comprises an old schoolhouse, a barn and a yurt. Students practice recorder lessons in nooks on the stairwell and meetings are held in the bathroom for lack of space.
Groundbreaking for a new building - in the design stages for months - was originally scheduled for October, but a higher-than-expected bid put the project on hold. In the meantime, School Director Colleen Poole has offered to take a 25 percent cut in duties and salary to help the school afford to pay architect bills and other expenses.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the board accepted Poole's proposition for the upcoming year. The public school is free for students and funded primarily through per-pupil revenue from the state. Fundraising and donations through pledges also make up a portion of the income, but not enough to make ends meet.
The board hopes to increase outside revenue several-fold in the upcoming years as Poole begins devoting more time toward funds generation.
"Colleen would develop new sources of revenue, which is the only way some of us think we're going to get out of this bind," said Bob White, president of the charter school's board of directors.
The board accepted Poole's salary cut as a way to avoid losing an aide or scrapping the school's Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound program - one of the foundations of the school that incorporates outdoors programs into the daily curriculum.
The ELOB curriculum doesn't necessarily change the students' daily routines, said third- and fourth-grade teacher Amy Cosgrove. It does mean students have more community-service elements in the curriculum, as well as a variety of outdoors activities such as a bike club and a cross-country ski unit.
Cosgrove, who has been teaching for 22 years, with five years at the charter school, said the school also enjoys more flexibility than larger facilities.
"We custom-make our days so that it fits our students' skills and needs more than any other school I've ever been at," she said.
The school is near its enrollment capacity (with a student-teacher ratio near 14-1), but if the new building is finished, it would increase capacity to 75, a figure Cosgrove expects the school could fill in its first year. The school began with 18 students in 2001 and has expanded steadily since then, sometimes with 12 students per year.
"The new building is eminent. Either that, or we're at a standstill," she said.
For eighth-graders Kate Jankoski and Abby Clark, the small size of the school is a benefit, and it's also all they have known. Kate and Abby have attended the school since its opening year and will have to leave next year to attend Steamboat Springs High School.
Asked how she felt about leaving, Kate said, "depressed."
"I like working with little kids, and at this school, you get to work with little kids," she said. "I like how small it is, you never run into someone you don't know."
For Abby, the outdoors elements of the school were a big draw.
"We're just such an open school; we're not suffocated in a classroom," she said.
Business Manager Karen Myers said she doesn't think the character of the school will change with the new building. Incorporated into the original design is a walkway to avoid the mud between the buildings and a large meeting space for pageants, shows and group meals.
"Kids are very fond of our campus. Having a new building will allow it to open up quite a bit," she said. "There's also a passion to having a building that's all inside."