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Pro: Eagle Co. Charter academy deserves district funds

Sarah Smith Hymes
Vail CO, Colorado

I have spent two Wednesdays a month for the last year attending Eagle County School District Board of Education meetings. I have been there by choice to understand the issues facing our school district. In a nutshell, what I have learned is this: the issues are complex, the Board of Education is deeply committed to the welfare of all students in the district, and each board member has to make very real personal sacrifices to serve in this capacity. To suggest that a yes vote for the Eagle County Charter Academy common building would mean that the Board of Education has deceived and misled the public and that they are breaking promises made to the voters is in itself deceiving and misleading.

First and foremost, let’s not forget about the students. They seem to be overlooked in all the posturing and politics. The Eagle County Charter Academy has been very successful in educating children, chosen by lottery, that fall all along the learning spectrum. The 288 district students who attend the charter school in any given year need a permanent building that is a safe place to gather for security issues, academic and enrichment programming, and physical activities during our long, hard winters. The funding of $2.75 million is a first step in allowing the Eagle County Charter Academy to achieve this building.

Opponents of funding for a common building for the charter academy say the school wasn’t on the bond, so they shouldn’t get any bond proceeds. Along with several other projects that were cut to get to the $128 million that bond consultants advised could pass, the Eagle County Charter Academy was on the original list of projects to receive bond proceeds, and at a much higher amount than the $2.75 million being considered today. The academy started public discussions with the school district in late 2005/early 2006. Prudent construction management and hefty construction contingencies have allowed the $15.9 million in additional bond premium and interest to be appropriated for projects that were cut completely (Red Canyon High School), or cut back in scope (Eagle Valley High School.) After funding these projects and ensuring adequate contingency for on-going projects, there is more than $6 million in interest left which the district can spend on capital projects with the school board’s approval. When the charter school receives $2.75 million toward the common building, it will represent about 2 percent of the total $144 million realized from the bond plus premium and interest. Eagle County Charter Academy parents will still need to fund-raise an estimated $500,000 to build the common building, which will be a district building on district land.

It is commonly stated by our opponents that the survey results showed that the public is not in favor of funding a building at the charter schools. The Eagle County Charter Academy and Battle Mountain were the only schools specifically queried on all three types of survey questions. The charter academy’s results in favor were on average slightly below 50 percent. We believe that any school or program, if specifically asked in a survey, would receive similar survey results that the Eagle County Charter Academy received. In addition, many of the questions that polled very favorably were general questions which apply to all district students.

Another common misrepresentation is that it is illegal for the school district to fund a building for the charter school. District lawyers have reviewed all pertinent documents and have found that there is no legal impediment to the district funding a permanent building at the charter academy, as long as the building is a permanent structure, on district land, and owned by the district. The Eagle County Charter Academy common building will meet all these criteria. The district’s attorneys have stated that 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.

The argument is often made that other district schools can’t limit their enrollment, so the charter school shouldn’t get district facility funds when there are overflowing classrooms elsewhere. I agree that we need to support all schools in our district. However, there are other district programs that have limited or selective enrollment (dual language, Red Canyon). The charter school relies on its parents to fundraise the money needed to keep our classes small and pay our teachers at a premium. In the past year alone, an estimated 15,000 hours in volunteer time were spent on fundraising.

The bond funds cannot be used for salaries or programs but only for facilities and will not be of help in reducing class sizes. The downvalley elementary schools are experiencing large class sizes, and if growth continues another bond issue will need to be voted on to build another elementary school in either Eagle or Gypsum. By helping pass the current bond, the Eagle County Charter Academy community has demonstrated its commitment to supporting education for all district students, not just its own.

Some have claimed that the school’s charter does not allow for physical education, which will be just one of many uses for the common building. The charter approved by the district in 1994 and renewed in 1999 and 2004 says nothing about prohibiting physical education or specials.

We all need to actively lobby the state legislature to increase funding for education from preschool through state universities and colleges.

Sarah Smith Hymes is the president of the Eagle County Charter Academy Board of Directors. E-mail comments about this column to letters@vaildaily.com.


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