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Dozen more students could earn Charter millions

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyEagle County Charter Academy teacher Jennifer Loper reads to her class Tuesday in Edwards.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” You’ll never find more than 16 students in any class at the Eagle County Charter Academy ” would 17 make much difference?

Allowing one more student per class is one way the Charter Academy could raise the money it needs to build a community building on its own and without $2.5 million from Eagle County School Board, says Phil Onofrio, chief financial officer for the school district.

While a spacious building at the cramped charter school is needed to safely conduct school assemblies, several parents and educators believe there are better uses for school district money and the charter school should pay its own way, as it always has in the past.



So why are academy leaders rejecting the seemingly practical solution to a problem that has divided the community?

“That model of 16 kids is part of the original charter, and that model is working,” said Sarah Hymes, president of the charter academy board of directors. “It looks like a real easy solution, just add a kid or two, but we’ve been doing it like this for 14 years. It was not something we were willing to change.”

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That small class size is one thing that sets the Charter Academy apart, she said. In turn, the kids there don’t have many of the things other schools take for granted ” like real school buildings, she said.

Space is also an issue, she said. The Charter Academy holds classes in modular trailers, which are already tight on space, she said.

“You can’t just throw more kids in those classrooms,” Hymes said.



The board’s 4-3 decision to give $2.5 million to the charter academy nearly a month ago drew the ire of several parents and educators, who saw better uses for the money.

More pay for teachers, grants, fire exits at other schools and turf at the new Battle Mountain High School stadium are just a few of the things parents said should be prioritized over the charter school.

Board members who voted against the funding had said the district should wait to see how much the other major construction projects ” like Red Canyon High School, June Creek Elementary and the new Battle Mountain High School ” will end up costing before approving funding to the charter academy.

Parents also questioned the legality of the decision, saying the board was not transparent with the voting process. The issue was written on the board agenda as “Discussion with Eagle County Charter Academy” and listed for “action.”

The board took back that decision last Wednesday, deciding it needed to vote again, this time with everything clearly spelled out on the agenda.

The second vote will be on Nov. 5, the day before an election day on which three school board seats could change hands.

If the charter school were to raise its class size by one student, here’s what would happen:

Every public school receives money based on how many students it has. In Eagle County, each student receives around $8,000, most of which comes from the state.

More kids equals more money. If 15 to 17 more students were allowed into the charter academy, the school would raise enough money to fund the loan payments on $3 million, Onofrio said.

If they needed more money, say $5 million, they could just add another student per class.

Another solution looming in the background is moving the Charter Academy to the building that will be left behind when Battle Mountain High School moves into its new facilities in Edwards.

The idea was thrown around last year when the district was considering whether the charter academy’s community building should go on the $128 million bond ballot. The bond ended up passing, but without the community building.

Hymes said many people liked the idea of moving to Battle Mountain, but much about it didn’t make sense. With academy students taking up only so much of the large building, utility costs would end up being too expensive and bankrupt the school, she said.

However, Onofrio said there would be ways to cut down utility costs, especially since the school is divided into wings.

Also, the charter school had no guarantee as to who else would be using the space at the former high school, and with kindergartners at the charter academy, they wanted to make sure whoever else used the space was a good fit.

Hymes said the charter academy has given up on Battle Mountain and has no plans to pursue moving there.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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