Funding request debated | SteamboatToday.com

Funding request debated

Susan Cunningham

Members of the Education Fund Board voiced concerns Wednesday night about a $45,000 funding request for the North Routt Community Charter School.

The charter school, which is a part of the Steamboat Springs School District, needs the funding to be part of the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound teaching program for a second year. The school began the teaching program this year.

The Fund Board listened to a first reading for the request, meaning it did not hold a vote to approve the request. Further discussion and a vote could come after a second reading during the Fund Board’s July meeting.

Charter school parents, members of its board of directors and several students came to Wednesday’s meeting to support the funding request, which was brought to the Fund Board by its Educational Excellence Commission. The Educational Excellence Commission voted in favor of funding the request, said Fund Board and Educational Excellence Commission member Sue MacCarthy.

Paula Stephenson, a Fund Board and Steamboat Springs School Board member, said the request was for a significant amount of money, considering it would directly benefit only a few dozen students and two or three teachers.

This year, the Steamboat Springs School District has received between $50,000 and $75,000 for teacher development, Stephenson said. Those funds benefit 185 teachers and 1,901 students.

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According to Stephenson’s calculations, the charter school is asking for $1,285 per student given its expected enrollment of 35 students, or $18,000 per teacher, considering the Clark-based school has two full-time and one half-time teachers.

In comparison, the school district has received about $40 per student, or $400 per teacher, Stephenson said.

“There’s no way I could tell the voters we did something like that,” Stephenson said about approving the charter school’s funding request.

Fund Board and School Board member Pat Gleason also said he was concerned with the disparity. The level of funding the charter school was requesting could not be awarded districtwide, he said. He asked whether the Expeditionary Learning training could be of value to the entire district.

Superintendent Donna How-ell said she would not make a recommendation about whether the request should be approved but said she was conflicted about the issue.

The children at the charter school are district students, she said, and the teaching method the school is pursuing is a good one.

But, because children who enroll in a charter school take with them the district’s per-pupil funding allotment from the state — about $6,000 per student for the Steamboat district — the charter school ends up draining resources from the district, Howell said. That means that as the charter school grows, the district could be asking for additional funding for teacher training.

Some parents disagreed, saying that their children would be homeschooled or that they would move if the charter school were not available to them.

Colleen Poole, principal and director of the North Routt Community Charter School, said finances should not be the bottom line. Educating children is the bottom line, and all schools within the Steamboat district provide a way of accomplishing that, she said.

“They’re all our kids,” Poole said.

Fund Board member Jerry Kozatch questioned whether the charter school should have requested funds from the school district first.

The Fund Board decided to research the issue.

This year was the first that the charter school was an Expeditionary Learning school. It paid the $45,000 one-year cost through special funding for beginning charter schools and some grants and donations. In the next year or so, it should be able to generate the funds on its own, Poole said.

The $45,000 price tag provides the school 26 days of service, during which a school designer comes to the school; two five-day seminars for teacher training; a three-day seminar and other trainings, Poole said.

Poole said the Expeditionary Learning model teaches students through expeditions.

“The kids don’t know they’re learning,” Poole said. “It’s a very unique way of teaching.”

— To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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