Charter school sees some fruits of RFSD bond money
The lone charter school to operate under the umbrella of the Roaring Fork School District, Carbondale Community School, is sharing some of the benefit from the $122 million bond issue that was approved last year.
The first classroom project to be completed a year after voters gave their OK to the aggressive facilities plan was a $580,000 art room addition at the K-8 charter school that’s run by the nonprofit education organization, Compass.
“CCS is a vital part of our educational ecosystem in the Roaring Fork Schools,” district Superintendent Rob Stein said. “As a district-authorized charter school, we were pleased to include them in our bond projects.”
As the school district did five years ago when voters passed a mill levy override to support teacher pay increases, CCS is considered part of the district family and is benefiting from that, Stein said.
“We are their authorizers and are responsible for their program outcomes, and ultimately they are our kids,” he said. “CCS is accountable to us for performance and equity, just as any of the other schools.”
Financial support from local school districts for charter schools is becoming more common in Colorado, but there is still a long way to go, according to Dan Schaller, director of governmental affairs for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
“Many school districts are looking at charter students as a full-fledged part of the school community,” Schaller said. “There has been a lot of progress in some districts, but for every step forward we are seeing some steps back.”
Denver Public Schools, which has 55 district-authorized charter schools, has been one of the most supportive districts in the state, Schaller said.
However, he noted that the Charter Schools League and the boards of some charter schools operating within the Aurora Public School District opposed a district bond issue that was on the ballot last week, because they felt it didn’t extend a fair share to charters.
Same was true for a bond issue question in the Fort Collins-based Poudre School District that two charters operating in that district had opposed.
Both of those measures passed, as did several others around the state. One of the most supportive school districts during this fall’s bond election season when it comes to charter schools was Durango.
There, a successful bond issue included local tax funding for two charter schools that don’t even operate under the local school district, but are instead authorized under the Colorado Department of Education’s Charter School Institute.
“State charters have an even harder time tapping into that source of revenue,” Schaller said. “By our estimates, there is about $14 million across the state that those charters in aggregate are missing out on.”
That’s something the Roaring Fork School District might be open to considering in the future, as it relates to two state-chartered schools that are operating within district boundaries, Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs and Ross Montessori in Carbondale.
“It will likely be a while before something like that even comes up, but we have started having active conversations with all of the charters that are operating within our district,” Stein said.
However, a stipulation would likely have to be that charter schools better mirror the ethnic and socio-economic mix of students seen in district schools, he added.
“What we would like to see in that scenario is equitable enrollment and equitable outcomes if we are to address equitable access to resources,” Stein said.
The Roaring Fork district recently agreed to a stipulation put forward by the Carbondale Community School whereby it will weight the annual student admission lottery to favor a certain percentage of families whose home language is other than English.
Meanwhile, several building improvements, construction of one brand new school, a major renovation of another school, and several other construction projects are taking shape a year after voters approved the RFSD bond issue.
Stein said the decision to go for a bond issue in November 2015 instead of waited for what ended up being a crowded ballot with several controversial issues and a presidential election this fall, proved to be a smart move.
Statewide this year, voters were being asked to support 24 bond issues tallying more than $4 billion in taxes to support public education.
“Our board was very proactive and strategic in predicting the volatility of this election with the number of school districts asking for bonds and getting ahead of it,” Stein said. “Because of our conscious decision to go to bond early, we had a more competitive bidding process so we were able to get more bids for better rates.”
Most of the projects are scheduled to be completion by or before fall 2017. Construction continues on two new district transportation facilities, one in Glenwood Springs and one in El Jebel.
Work is also progressing on the new, $34 million Eastbank school that will serve students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade living south of Glenwood Springs.
The last project set for completion, Glenwood Springs Elementary School, is scheduled to be done in February 2018.
The district has also made headway regarding the $15 million share of the bond issue that is going to support affordable housing for teachers. Purchase contracts have been approved for 23 housing units that are being built at the Willits development in Basalt and at Ironbridge south of Glenwood Springs.
Despite the ambitious timeline, district officials said the projects are generally on time and coming in at or under budget.
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