Why Two Rivers Community School is seeking Roaring Fork School District authorization
Students kicked soccer balls and ran around the Two Rivers Elementary School playground Tuesday, unaware of the ongoing behind-the-scenes politics that could have a substantial impact on their future.
Less than a week before, Head of School Jamie Nims presented to the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education following an application seeking authorization through the district. Approval of the application in January would put the charter under the umbrella of the Roaring Fork School District. For Nims, the motivation is clear: better funding and oversight decisions made at a local level, as opposed to the state-level guidance it currently receives under Colorado Charter School Institute authorization.
The school district sees it as an opportunity to advance its reach in the community and further collaboration.
“We see this as a chance to better partner with the school, with the families,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said. “And those are our families. Those are our kids.”
Nims said the majority of graduates from his K-8 move on to Glenwood Springs High School, a Roaring Fork school.
District authorization means that the district would take responsibility and accountability for metrics like student performance.
It does not give the district control of the day-to-day operations of the institution or the curriculum, Stein said.
“I have a feeling they would have a good case in the court of law that we’ve overreached,” Stein said.
He added that none of the charter schools in the district’s boundaries match the diversity rates of the Roaring Fork School District, but of the independent ones, Two Rivers is the closest. Roaring Fork Schools have a nearly 60% Latino population. Two Rivers’ minority population approached 40% in 2021 — a small increase since it opened in 2014, according to Nims’ presentation.
Stein said that district authorization would allow it to influence the enrollment lottery, adding preference to prospective students from Spanish-primary-language households.
Two Rivers would also see a substantial increase in per-pupil funding, estimated to be a gross of around $2,800, according to Stein. The school currently spends around $9,000 annually per student.
Stein said these dollars are accounted for in mill levy funds. The district receives money per student within district boundaries, regardless of if those students attend a Roaring Fork school or not.
With Two Rivers authorized by a separate entity, Roaring Fork has been allowed to pocket the funds allocated by Two Rivers’ students as it saw fit. With district authorization, those funds would be legally mandated to be spent on Two Rivers.
Stein called it “new money” and said that program spending would not be affected, nor would cuts of any form have to take place.
Since these funds are already accounted for in budgeting, an in-district taxpayer would not see an increase in taxes from the change in authorization.
What the budget change does is allow Two Rivers to increase its employee pay to competitive levels to help with recruiting and retention. District wages are set to increase following the passing of a mill levy override in November to compensate for the area’s high cost of living. Authorization would give Two Rivers access to a portion of those funds from the allotment set aside for charter schools, not the percentage already promised to wage increases.
In short, it “levels the playing field” for Two Rivers’ staffing efforts, according to Nims.
“It’s difficult to sell the school culture in the interview when every other principal is trying to sell their school culture as well,” Nims said. “I think it levels the playing field for us in a way that makes us at least be able to start conversations with some folks who otherwise wouldn’t walk through the door.”
Nims added that the increased funding would also allow for increased programming for students and echoed the sentiment of collaborating for the sake of community growth.
“The fact that we serve the same community makes it a really logical adjustment for us,” Nims said. “I think there’s a mutual benefit because we’re invested in the same kids. Their success in high school has a lot to do with how we perform here.”
Neither administrator said they’ve received any organized opposition to the application.
The school district is scheduling a community meeting for stakeholders to share their input on Jan. 5. The district’s Board of Education is slated to vote on the application Jan. 10.
Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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