Charter school funds upset some parents |

Charter school funds upset some parents

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Funding a new community building at Eagle County Charter Academy never went to voters, but it almost did.

More than two months before the $128 million bond passed last November to fund new schools and technology upgrades, the community building was taken off the ballot. School leaders feared this building, which didn’t have valleywide support, would hurt the bond’s chances of passing.

Now, months later, several parents are upset with the school board’s recent 4-3 vote to go ahead and give $2.5 million to the Charter Academy to help build that same community center.

“There are so many things the school district is not funding properly at this point I don’t understand why they would give that money to the charter school,” said Tessa Kirchner, who has a son at Minturn MIddle School and a daughter at Meadow Mountain Elementary.

The $2.5 million spent on the community building could give $5,000 raises to every teacher in the district, or even fund the Innovative Grant Program recently started by teachers, Kirchner said.

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There’s also the stadium at the new Battle Mountain High school, which as of now, will be built without stat-of-the-art turf, bleachers and a press box, much to the chagrin of parents, students and coaches, she said.

Even things as simple as art supplies at Meadow Mountain Elementary are paid for by parents, and that’s not right, she said.

Mike Matzko, another parent at Meadow Mountain Elementary, said this looks like a bad decision by the school board. With the district unsure of exactly how much some construction projects will cost, like the new high school, it doesn’t make sense to add another project to the list.

“It just surprises me they would go ahead and make a decision like this when they don’t know how much everything will cost,” Matzko said.

The school district hasn’t funded capital projects for the charter school yet, and he doesn’t see why the district should start now.

“The charter has found funds for its buildings on its own ” if you want your own building, you need to pay for it,” he said.

Despite the argument over who should be paying for the community building, there does appear to be a need for one.

The 288 students at Eagle County Charter Academy regularly meet in the cramped “Hawk Room” for school assemblies. This is where they put on school plays, perform music, hold parent meetings, play Bingo ” all your basic school stuff.

This room, however, was only designed to hold half that many kids, and school leaders are worried about safety when squeezing more than 300 people at times into the tiny room. When that happens, the school isn’t meeting fire safety codes, says the school district.

The new community building would be about 10,700 square feet and be located on the north side of the charter academy campus. Much of that space would be taken up by a 7,000-square-foot gymnasium with bleacher seating for 320 people.

There would also be an elevated stage for theater performances, two locker rooms, a mechanical room, storage space and an entry foyer.

School leaders say its important to have a gym so kids can still have recess and participate in physical education classes on snowy days.

The new building will also give the school a sense of permanence ” with all the classes held in modular trailers, there’s sometimes a feeling that the school won’t always be there, said Sarah Hymes, president of the Charter Academy board of directors.

While it hasn’t been decided for sure, the money will likely come from certificates of participation, which function basically like loans, chief financial officer Phil Onofrio said. Money for the community building won’t come from the bond issue approved last November, and it won’t come from the district’s reserves.

While bond money won’t be used to fund the building, general reserve money will be used to make payments on the loans.

The school district would own the building, and officials have made it clear that it would be a place that could be used by other schools and community groups.

The total cost of the project will be a more than $3 million, and the Charter Academy will have to raise the difference themselves.

The board’s decision brings up a forever looming question ” what exactly is the relationship between the school district and the charter school?

The charter school has its own board of directors and makes decisions independently of Eagle County School District. The directors decide all school policy.

They receive the majority of their funding from the state based on how many students are in class. The rest comes from lots of fundraising, more than most public schools have to do on their own.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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