Eagle County: Charter deserves funds, parents say | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Charter deserves funds, parents say

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EDWARDS, Colorado ” Students at the Eagle County Charter Academy are kids just like any others in the school district, and giving the school $2.75 million to build a new common building shouldn’t be seen as wrong or controversial, parents at the school say.

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 cold and snowy days. Now, there’s no good gathering place to do things like stage plays, hold science fairs or give out awards where parents can watch as well.

“We have energetic kids who need a physical outlet, we have kids who like to shine on stage in performances and parents who tear-up and clap like crazy when their child receives an all-school award,” said parent Deborah Worley.

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. And now that the school district has more than $6 million in unused funds from the $128 million bond approved by voters in 2006, there’s an opportunity to fund the new building.

Many people fundamentally oppose giving the Charter Academy bond money, as it wasn’t outlined on the ballot, and have harshly criticized the Board of Education for considering it. But the Charter Academy leaders and parents see it differently. The Charter Academy is part of the school district, has needs like other schools, and is eligible to be funded by the district, they say.

“Our kids are part of the school district here, and what we’re trying to get is what’s good for all the schools,” said parent Craig Ferraro, who is on the Charter Academy school board.

Ferraro says he has a hard time understanding why much of the community so adamantly against funding the Charter Academy.

He’s heard people complain that the Charter Academy shouldn’t receive money because the school places limitations on the number of students who can attend. Anyone is free to enter the lottery for spots in the Charter Academy, but many families do end up on a waiting list.

But, there are other important programs that can only accept a limited number of students ” like the dual-language program and Red Canyon High School ” and having those choices is healthy for the school district, Ferraro said.

When the school district helps alternative programs and schools, it’s making the entire school district more successful, he said.

“Different kids have different learning styles ” my son wouldn’t be successful at dual language, but he does do well in a small class environment, and that’s why the charter appealed to us,” Ferraro said.

The district has been very open to innovation and change ” like implementing a pay system that bases teacher salary on performance ” and supporting the Charter Academy, which was one of the first charters in the state, is a way to continue that innovation, said Sarah Hymes, president of the Charter Academy school board.

There was little resistance school board using money from the bond premium sale to build a new campus for Red Canyon High School ” which also wasn’t on the bond ballot.

“They (the school board) gave money to Red Canyon High School, and they felt that it was right for all the kids in the district. We’re somewhat in the same position here,” Ferraro said.

The Charter Academy, like Red Canyon, may not have been on the bond ballot, but it’s been no secret that the school district has been interested in funding the building.

A common building at the Charter Academy, and even a full campus, has been a part of official discussions with the school district for more than two years, and has been planned by the Charter Academy for much longer, Hymes said.

The common building proposal was there when the $128 million bond question was being developed. When the common building was taken off the bond, at the suggestion of a survey company that polled voters and found weaker support for the Charter Academy building, the board made it clear that they would return to the school district to make the proposal again.

This is why supporters of the Charter Academy don’t understand accusations that they and the school district have been misleading the public.

“There’s been nothing deceitful about it, and we’re not sneaking it through the back door. It’s been out in the open for a long time,” Hymes said.

Legally, there’s no problem giving the Charter Academy money to build a common building. Interest earned from the bond would be used to pay for the Charter Academy common building, which does not have to be spent on projects outlined on a bond question. 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 district owns the land where the building would go, the district would own the building, and the district would have oversight in its design.

“The financial people knew there would be premium, interest and contingencies, and that there would be more money than anticipated, and it’s within their legal right to spend on facilities as they see fit,” Hymes said.

The Board of Education will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Wedneday 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

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

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