Gypsum charter school seeks big donor |

Gypsum charter school seeks big donor

Lauren Glendenning
Gypsum, CO Colorado

GYPSUM, Colorado ” The New America School in Gypsum is facing a budget shortfall that could shut the school down next year if the money isn’t raised soon.

The school, a charter school that operates on a combination of monies from the state, the Eagle County School District and private contributors ” including the school’s founder, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis ” needs about $100,000 more for the 2009-10 school year.

The New America School’s board wants to make a decision by March on whether the school should continue serving Eagle County next year. The school’s three other campuses along the Front Range are not facing budget shortfalls.

“We want to keep the school open,” said Dominic DiFelice, superintendent of the four New America School campuses. “Our hope is to find some benefactor in the community that would step up to the plate. … The district is all in, in terms of what it can do for the school.”

The New America School has 100 students currently enrolled, but only 78 were enrolled when the state did its October evaluation that determined funding for the year. The school has taken in the other 22 students without state help, said Kathy Brendza, the school’s principal.

The school doesn’t turn away students if it can find a way to accommodate them, DiFelice said. The school’s students are made up of recent immigrants, their families and children who want to learn or perfect English and also earn a high school diploma, according to the school’s Web site.

Many students have dropped out of or transferred from Eagle County Schools, and about half are from other countries.

The law requires free and appropriate education for everyone, which is why Brendza hopes people would support the school regardless of their beliefs on immigration.

“We’re talking about 100 kids,” she said. “Do 100 kids count? Yes. … We can get them in here and really immerse them in English and core classes. They have a better chance of graduating and being productive after they graduate.”

It costs $11,400 to educate each student at New America School. The state and Eagle County Schools contributions total $9,000 per student; Jared Polis kick in another $1,500 per student, and what’s left is about $820 per student, Brendza said.

The state requires that Eagle County Schools fund $7,243 per student, said Phil Onofrio, the school district’s chief financial officer. The school district has asked the voters in recent years for more money, of which voters approved more than $8 million. The district then divided that additional, or override, money, by the total number of students in the district. It doesn’t have to include charter school students, but it does because the district wants all students to succeed, Onofrio said.

“The theory is that these kids are citizens in this county. They own or rent properties and pay in, so they should get their share,” he said. “We would like to see that school survive.”

For now, the school district has done everything it thinks is fair, Onofrio said, without affecting its other students. The board could consider giving more, but that isn’t something on the table yet and there’s no certainty that giving more is even an option. The district treats both of its charter schools equally, he said.

“The Eagle County Charter School has additional needs, too,” Onofrio said. “They go out and fundraise additional funds every year; we have to treat them equally.”

Since Polis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last November, he had to step down from the New America School’s board. His charitable foundation remains the top giver to the school and will continue to give significantly, however the giving is being gradually reduced each year, said Gina Nocera, executive director for the Jared Polis Foundation and director of his individual philanthropic giving.

“There’s a scheduled reduction (of contributions), although (his contributions are) still significant,” she said. “It’s still his number one philanthropic donation.”

Polis gave $150,000 to the Gypsum New America School for the 2009-10 school year, DiFelice said. Even with that money, the school still needs $100,000. He said the New America School’s board has to make a decision in March on whether to keep the school open because it owes it to the school’s faculty and staff ” they need to know if they will still have jobs.

“We’ve made all the cutbacks we could, and the shortfall is still there,” DiFelice said.

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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