Charter home should be best fit for local school, state charter schools director says
When it comes time to reauthorize a charter school in Colorado, it’s not to be a competition between the state and local school districts, said the director of the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI).
“As a former school leader, I encourage schools to make sure to take care of the best interests of the school,” said Terry Croy Lewis, executive director for the CSI.
Should both the local school district and the state chartering authority approve the charter, it’s the school’s decision which way to go, she said in reference to Two Rivers Community School’s concurrent applications for reauthorization with both the Roaring Fork School District and the CSI.
“We will work with them and make sure they understand all the implications, and try to cover all of our bases as they decide which authorizer is the best fit,” Croy Lewis said.
Two Rivers, located in Glenwood Springs but serving students from all three Garfield County school districts, began under the CSI five years ago. Recently, the school announced that it would apply concurrently for renewed authorization with the Roaring Fork Schools, and with the state.
“There is some resource sharing that, at the end of the day, could be beneficial to our students,” TRCS Head of School Jamie Nims said in August when the school began its application process with the local school district.
Croy Lewis acknowledged that resource-sharing, and especially the ability to share local mill levy dollars, is a benefit to being a district-chartered school.
District charter schools are able to tap into a proportional share of local mill levy override funds or bond issues, minus 5%. State charters do not have that ability, unless agreed to by the local district.
One Colorado school district, Durango, has agreed to share local tax dollars with the two state charter schools that are in operation there, and other districts have started the conversation, Croy Lewis said.
For new charter schools, many Colorado school districts, including the Roaring Fork district, have exclusive chartering authority. That means a start-up school must first apply with the local district and, if rejected, can then reapply with the state.
That exclusive authority does not apply when an existing school is seeking to have its charter renewed, Croy Lewis explained.
“We do believe in autonomy of our schools,” she added in reference to one potential benefit of being a state charter. “That is something that does vary from district to district. But it’s an important tenet in our values.”
Nims also indicated that continued autonomy for Two Rivers is a critical consideration.
TRCS serves about 350 students, drawing from the Roaring Fork, Garfield Re-2 and Garfield 16 districts, with a focus on projects-based learning and bilingual immersion in Spanish and English.
Two Rivers first sought to become a district charter school using the Expeditionary Learning model. After being rejected by the district, it was approved in 2014 to become a state charter school.
Nims indicated that the school expects to have its application filed with the school district this month, and is applying concurrently with the state.
The Roaring Fork school board indicated in August that it would like to complete the review and make a decision by early November, although that time line could be extended. The CSI board makes its charter renewal decisions in December, Croy Lewis said.
Meanwhile, the CSI held its fall regional meeting in Glenwood Springs last week. In addition to numerous Front Range charter schools, the state organization has charters in several Western Slope communities, including Durango, Grand Junction, Steamboat Springs, Edwards, Two Rivers in Glenwood Springs and Ross Montessori in Carbondale.
In addition to providing professional development for charter school teachers, administrators and staff, the meeting on Sept. 16 served as a celebration of CSI’s 15th anniversary, as well as the upcoming 15th anniversary for Ross Montessori — one of the first two schools to be chartered by the state in 2005.
“We recognize how difficult it can be for our schools on the Western Slope to get to Denver, so we wanted to bring the celebration to our schools,” CSI Communications Coordinator Amanda Oberg said in a press release.
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Basalt High School students view the Roaring Fork Valley and learn about the watershed from EcoFlight’s educational plane trips.