Outcry stalls charter school money | VailDaily.com

Outcry stalls charter school money

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE ” Eagle County Charter Academy thought it had received $2.5 million from the school board to build a new community building, but those plans are on hold for now.

After several parents questioned the legality of how the decision was made to help fund the academy’s building, the school board decided to put the issue on hold and officially vote again on Nov. 6.

“We’re going to list the action with a specific purpose and amount so that won’t be challenged,” said Interim Superintendent John Pacheco.

The Charter Academy removed themselves from the $128-million bond approved last November because school leaders were worried that the building, which did not have valleywide support, would hurt the bond’s chances of passing.

The school board voted 4-3 on Sept. 26 to help build a building that would cost more than $3 million. The current building is too small and a safety issue, said board member Mary Ann Stavney.

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But some parents did not think it was fair for the board to give money to the charter school, and some did not think the board was transparent in the voting process. The issue was written on the board agenda as “Discussion with Eagle County Charter Academy” and listed for “action.”

The agenda description was ambiguous, Pacheco admitted.

There was not much opportunity to learn about the issue, and the board was not clear about when they would vote on it, said Robye Nothnagel, who has two children at Brush Creek Elementary.

“There wasn’t much documentation, it wasn’t advertised on the Web site, and there’s nowhere in the minutes where it said they were going to vote on giving money,” she said.

Several parents wondered why $2.5 million was given to the Charter Academy, which has its own board and gets most of its funding from the state and through fund raising, when many other schools could use the money.

The academy could raise class sizes from 16 to 17 students and that would raise the money needed for the building, parents said.

Teachers at Brush Creek Elementary only received 45 percent payout during the 2004-2005 school year, said teacher Ruth Moroney.

“Before money is spent on a new building, you can see why teachers are upset about this,” she said.

The academy is not like the other public schools, she said. Their class sizes are smaller and they pay their teachers more, she said.

“There’s not a teacher in this district who wouldn’t love to have a class size of 16,” she said.

Liz McGillvray said her daughter had 27 kids in her kindergarten class and her son has 29 kids in his fourth grade class at Brush Creek Elementary. They have space and safety issues, too, she said, but the school has had to compromise.

“There are record numbers of kindergarten and first graders. There are two teachers on the playground for 80 five- and six-year-olds. That’s a safety issue,” she said.

Eagle Valley Elementary does not have fire doors, the old carpet is causing illness and there are not even enough teachers to cover all the students without combining grades, said Teak Simonton, who has a child in fifth grade.

“I hope the school district prioritizes safety and health issues before they vote again,” she said.

But Charter Academy parents and officials said the current community building is inadequate and the students deserve a new building for school meetings and physical education.

“If there was a safety issue during a school meeting, there would be dead children,” said Charter Academy Principal Jay Cerney.

The school was offered used of Battle Mountain High School facilities, but turned it down because it was too expensive, he said.

The academy is not asking for more than its fair share, said Sarah Hymes, the charter school’s board president. They do not even have a permanent building, she said, and for 14 years all of the classrooms have been modular buildings.

“We don’t have it all, and what we do have is through funding like mad. The problem is not here of with the board. It’s with the state legislature. The amount of money we have to work with is not enough,” she said.

Even with fundraising and state support, the charter school would not be able to build a full campus, much less a community building, Hymes said.

“We need this building. We’ll never be able to fund it on our own,” she said.

Stavney defended her vote for the funding. The school board has a “moral obligation to keep kids safe,” she said.

Any student in a public school has benefited from facility funds, but the charter school doesn’t get those funds, she said.

“The community building is not a want, but a need,” she said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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