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D-49 puts charter on probation as it digs out of financial hole

May 7, 2010

A one-year probationary contract with the financially troubled Rocky Mountain Classical Academy was unanimously approved Friday by the Falcon School District 49  board.   

District administrators said they will work closely with the 4-year-old charter school, conducting monthly audits to ensure it is on track.

The Falcon board grilled the school’s leaders during meetings Friday and last week about steps taken to rectify problems uncovered by the state in a review released last year.

The state found significant financial problems but also lauded the school’s academic achievement and attention to character development.

The school has made considerable progress in the past year, members of both boards noted.

“If you survive this year’s audit, the next years look really good,” said D-49 board member Christopher Wright.

Under the contract, the academy must meet strict financial reporting deadlines. If it fails, the charter could be revoked.

 “They have been jumping through hoops to get things done. I have been impressed and encouraged, ” Danielle Lindorf, D-49 board president said recently.

She lauded Bryan Tate, a business consultant who became the new RMCA board president in January.

Lindorf said that the district is partly to blame for RMCA’s predicament.

“I believe we failed you in various degrees in not requesting more accountability,” she said.

At the time, the district was in turmoil from frequent changes of superintendents, firing of many administrators and a failed recall.   

D-49 will appoint a liaison to the charter academy to ensure things are running smoothly.

“We are so willing to help you,” Lindorf said.

Kristin Geesey, an academy board member, pledged to “stick to budget, and you won’t have any concern.”

She blamed the charter school’s financial problems on poor communication between leaders and board members.

The school has cut spending, is instituting professional accounting system, obtained help from a financial expert and reduced nonteaching staff by six, said Tate, who has three students at the school.

“It’s a new day for us. We’ve taken the rearview mirror off the truck and are moving forward,” he said.

The academy, which has a budget of $4.5 million, is getting a short-term $215,000 loan from a bank or from two parents who have stepped forward to pay off vendors and get rid of the deficit.

It expects to be at least $96,000 in the black next year and have an additional $80,000 to squirrel away to address next year’s expected state education cuts.

A $350,000 emergency loan last year was paid off in 10 months.

School officials anticipate an 8 percent enrollment increase next year. The school serves grades K-10 and will expand to include 11th grade next year. It started with 527 students in 2008 and has 824 this year.

It also is addressing its failure to put away $135,000 to satisfy the state-required 3 percent TABOR reserve fund.

While RMCA builds the reserve, it will obtain a signature loan without actually taking the money, which can satisfy the state requirement.

The school was founded four years ago around a kitchen table by a fireman, a pet groomer and others who had an academic vision but little business experience.

Randy Adams, one of the founders, said, “We loaded up the wagons and headed west and got lost in the mountains. Now we have a doctor and blacksmith, expert advice.”

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