Busing not a moving target for charter academy | VailDaily.com

Busing not a moving target for charter academy

EAGLE COUNTY — Since the Oct. 9 story about the Eagle County Charter Academy’s demographics, the Vail Daily has been getting all kinds of questions.

For the most part, they’re about two things:

1. Busing students to the charter academy.

2. Lunch programs, including free and reduced lunch.

The charter academy is addressing both issues, and we’ll deal with them separately.

Under Colorado’s charter school laws enacted in 1993, essentially, the charter academy doesn’t have bus service because it has not asked for it. The school district cannot provide it until the charter academy does ask, and changes its charter to do so.

Charter academy working hard at it

Charter academy families have been solving their own transit issue for 21 years, said Kim Walter, charter school principal.

“To help our community, we actively support carpools by providing neighborhood lists to our families. Also, some of our families utilize ECO Transit for their children,” Walter said.

The district transportation system currently does a great job transporting kids from their neighborhoods to their community schools, Walter said.

“As ECCA has students from all across the valley, we would need to carefully consider how to equitably provide this service to our families and how to manage the increased cost,” Walter said.

The charter academy also provides its own lunch services to students, including free and reduced lunches.

“As part of that effort, we have also created a way to provide free and reduced lunches to our students in need,” Walter said. “So far, we’ve been able to meet the needs of our families with healthy and nutritious meals prepared through our lunch program.”

A bit of background

The charter academy’s student demographics are 94 percent white, although its charter requires it to reflect the school district’s overall student demographics: 53 percent Hispanic/Latino, 46 percent white, 1 percent other races and ethnicities.

Some charter academy advocates insist it’s because the school district does not provide busing to their school, as it does to other schools.

When the charter academy was granted Colorado’s second charter school charter in 1994, transportation was not included as part of the package.

To provide bus service, the charter academy would have to change its charter, in partnership with the school district, because Eagle County Schools is its sponsoring organization.

Follow the bouncing Busing bucks

The state sets Colorado’s per pupil funding level. This year it’s $7,575.71 for each little blessing from above.

Every school in the district, including the charter academy, gets additional tax money that’s generated by voter-approved property tax overrides, another $1,257.66 per pupil.

Additional funds can be generated through grants, donations and other sources, under both state law and the charter academy’s charter.

The district has another mill levy — property tax — of $153 per pupil, which generates around $1 million a year for transportation.

The district’s school bus system costs more than that to operate.

They transfer $500,000 a year out its general fund into its transportation fund, $78 per pupil.

That puts the district’s total transportation fund at $2.4 million per year.

That money is used to transport kids back and forth to school. It does not include transportation for things such as athletic competitions and other events.

Those trips are funded through the school allocations or activity fees that families pay.

That’s another $600,000 per year, about $93 per kid.

ORIGINALLY OPTED OUT

Eagle County Charter Academy opted not to participate in the school district’s transportation mill levy when its original charter was written 21 years ago. That made it the charter academy’s responsibility, and its families, to transport their students to their school.

Attorneys for both the school district and the charter academy said the two sides have been negotiating, hoping to avoid mediation.

“Eagle County Schools is interested in providing supports (such as transportation and food services) to ECCA that may help with the diversity issues at the school,” said Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County schools. “To date, we’ve had no formal conversations with ECCA on adding these services, but we are very open to that. There will be real cost and logistics issues involved that would need to be addressed.”

Glass said community-wide efforts and real partnership are the only ways to untangle the long-standing issue.

“The school can’t do it alone and we look forward to supporting ECCA in this important work,” Glass said.

School board candidates

Three candidates in the upcoming school board election have direct ties to the charter academy:

Mary Cotton lives in Edwards and is head of the charter academy’s board of directors.

Ryan Geller lives in Eagle-Vail and has two children in the charter academy.

Carrie Larson lives in Gypsum and has two children in the charter academy.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.