Eagle County Charter Academy up for funding again | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Charter Academy up for funding again

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” If the school board approves giving $2.75 million to the Eagle County Charter Academy to build a new common building, would it be breaking promises made to voters?

Charter Academy leaders have long said they need a new common building with a gym to safely hold school assemblies and to have P.E. on snowy days. The Charter Academy, which usually pays its own bills with state money and extensive fundraising, says it can’t afford this new building on its own and asked the school district to pay most of the cost.

But amidst the heated public debate over whether the school district should give money to the Charter Academy, the school board had always assured voters that money from the $128 million bond approved in 2006 ” which didn’t include funding for the charter academy ” was off limits.

“For clarity ” if ever the ECSD monies are spent on Eagle County Charter Academy, it will not be from the bond or the bond premiums from the 2006 bond,” said board member Brian Nolan on behalf of the entire board, according to minutes from the Nov. 5 meeting.

On Wednesday though, the board will vote on whether it will give the charter academy money ” specifically, $2.75 million coming from unallocated bond funds, according to the school board agenda.

Parent Tessa Kirchner believes a “yes” vote would mean the board has deceived and misled the public. Giving the Charter Academy a new building was definitely not on the bond ballot, and bond money should be used only for approved projects, she said.

The bond did include building a new high school and elementary in Edwards, remodeling Eagle Valley High School, upgrading buildings and technology and remodeling the current Battle Mountain High School, which will be empty when the new high school is finished.

And so far, the school district doesn’t know how much it will cost to remodel Battle Mountain High School, and it hasn’t even figured out what they’re going to do with the building when the new high school opens, she said.

“That money is not theirs to give ” they have not completed those issues that were on the bond,” Kirchner said.

Mike Matzko, a parent at Meadow Mountain Elementary, also opposes giving the Charter Academy school district money. He said if you read the agreement between the school district and the Charter Academy, funding for capital facilities, like buildings, should come from a bond election, which didn’t happen this time.

“And the interesting thing is they’ve had time to put together a bond question for this November, and they chose not to,” Matzko said.

When, in the future, the school district needs to start another bond campaign to build more schools downvalley, the public will have a hard time trusting the school board, Kirchner said.

“It puts the district in a precarious situation to do anything in the future,” Kirchner said. “It’s always a struggle to get bond issues passed, and those margins are never large.”

Interest earned from the bond would be used to pay for the Charter Academy common building, which does not legally have to be spent on projects outlined on a bond question, said Phil Onofrio, chief financial officer for the school district.

If the school district doesn’t stray from the intent of the bond then the board is free to spend leftover funds, which can include saved money and interest.

“The district can use leftover funds to construct public facilities within its district and those facilities can be used by a charter as a public school within the district,” said a legal opinion prepared by school district attorneys.

The board had actually approved funding for the Charter Academy in September with a close 4-3 vote. The district then hadn’t planned on using bond money to fund the Charter Academy ” instead, the building would have been funded through certificates of participation, which function as loans and would have been paid off with the district’s general fund.

The board reversed its vote in November, deciding that it would have been irresponsible to give the school money without knowing first how much other construction projects would cost.

Now, after having a better idea of how much all the projects will cost, the district believes it will have more than $6 million left over to spend on new projects. The district also has $5.3 million in contingency money, which is being reserved in case of construction emergencies, but will available to spend when projects finish without if there are no unexpected expenses.

Now, the school district feels confident that the money will be available, and will vote on giving the Charter Academy and several other projects more money.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

The Board of Education will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the school district offices, 757 E. Third Street in Eagle.

The board will decide how to spend more than $6 million in unallocated bond funds, and will also vote on the random drug testing policy being considered for Battle Mountain High School.

To look at the full agenda, view this story at http://www.vaildaily.com.

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