School district, Charter Academy duel over demographics
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EDWARDS — The Eagle County Charter Academy’s enrollment is supposed to reflect the same ethnic mix as the rest of the school district, but it’s nearly all white.
More than half the students at Eagle County Schools are Hispanic, while the charter school has 94 percent white kids. This disparity has been this way since the school opened in 1994 with a charter binding the school to reflect the full district’s ethnic demographics.
That lack of diversity, and high student-teacher ratios are two major issues the Eagle County school district is demanding the ECCA change.
ECCA claims it’s working on it, and hired Jefferson County attorney Barry Arrington to help argue their case with the school district.
The two sides have been negotiating for more than a year, and they’re getting closer, say attorneys for both sides.
“They’re still negotiating so they don’t have to go to mediation,” said Adele Reester, the school district’s attorney.
Those negotiations are confidential and ongoing, Reester said.
“They’re working toward resolving all these issues, and have resolved most of them,” Arrington said. “They’re working toward resolution of all the issues, including their charter.”
School board candidate Mary Cotton is president of the ECCA board of directors. Candidates Ryan Geller and Carrie Larson also have children at the charter school.
Diversity is demanded
ECCA’s student population is 94 percent white, 3 percent Hispanic and 3 percent other ethnicities — by far the least diverse of any Eagle County school.
However, the academy’s charter requires it to reflect the school district’s student demographics.
The charter academy’s charter says:
“The admissions will be designed to achieve a student population in each class which resembles the demographics of the district wide student population with regard to minority groups, special education and at-risk students.”
For the 2014-15 school year, Eagle County’s total student demographic was 3,548 Hispanic/Latino, and 3,053 white.
Contract will be enforced
The charter agreement is a contract between the ECCA and the Eagle County school district board of education, said Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County Schools.
“As there is specific language in the contract about ECCA achieving a population that resembles the rest of the district, the school board expects and supports ECCA in taking proactive steps to reach that goal,” Glass said in a written statement.
“Regardless of past practices, it is clearly the responsibility of ECCA to follow their contract, and of the ECS board to enforce it,” Glass said.
Plan taking shape
The charter school has an improvement plan in place, Glass said.
Academy Principal Kim Walter said the school is trying to diversify, offering its application in Spanish for several years.
However, of the 900 applications the academy received for the current school year, three were in Spanish, according to its March 15 board of directors meeting.
The academy has 16 available spots in next year’s kindergarten class.
Those spots are filled through a lottery, Walter said.
The other kindergarten spots are filled by students who deferred their spot for a year, children of staff members, and siblings of children already attending the academy, in keeping with the school’s policy, Walter said.
School district, taxpayers are responsible
The academy is a public school funded through the Eagle County school district.
That makes the school district and the school board ultimately responsible for the academy.
If, for example, a lawsuit or complaint was filed targeting diversity at any Eagle County public school including the charter academy, then the school district, the school board and county taxpayers would be on the hook.
It’s not far-fetched. The ACLU of Delaware and Community Legal Aid Society are arguing in a lawsuit that charter schools are “re-segregating” schools in that state.
In their complaint, they say more than 75 percent of Delaware’s charter schools are “racially identifiable” as either mostly white or mostly minority schools. They say charters serving minority students under-perform those serving more affluent white students.
Not Stone Creek Charter
Stone Creek Charter School is an independent public charter school, and is not connected or affiliated with the school district. Stone Creek is 10 years old this year, with campuses in Edwards and Gypsum.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.