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Colorado Springs charter school will likely be closed

January 29, 2015 Updated: January 29, 2015 at 4:15 am
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Despite pleas from supporters of STAR (Space Technology and Arts) Academy, the 9-year-old charter school will close at the end of this school year, Colorado Springs School District 11's board of education unanimously decided Wednesday night.

"That's with a heavy heart," said LuAnn Long, board president. "I'm sorry for all the staff and students."

"It's a tough decision," said Nora Brown, board treasurer.

The seven members of D-11's board agreed with an internal review team's recommendation to not renew its contract with the charter school that primarily serves low-income students. The recommendation cited concerns over financial problems and student academic performance, among other issues.

STAR, which has two campuses for kindergarten through eighth-grade, has been on probationary status with D-11 for the past three years. Other concerns included the school's difficulty maintaining staff, the fact that it didn't spend all of its Title I money in the past two years and that it presents a high risk to the district, Superintendent Nicholas Gledich said.

Patricia Scotland, a new member of STAR's board and a parent of a second-grader, said she had hoped D-11 leaders would give STAR another chance. The school also had weathered turmoil amongst its board members, with the former president and one of its founders, the Rev. Al Loma, stepping down last year before a recall election could be held.

"I'm upset," Scotland said after the board voted. "I just hope they seriously thought about what they're doing and how they're going to impact the kids' education. The transition is going to be easier for some and harder for others, but it's going to affect 
everybody."

Toby Norton, president of the STAR board, said the board moved this week's monthly meeting from Tuesday to Thursday night to incorporate the D-11 board's action into its discussion. Some board members have said they want to file an appeal, she said. An appeal of the D-11 board's decision can be made to the Colorado Charter School Institute, the state's charter school authorizing body.

If STAR officials do file an appeal and the Colorado Charter School Institute denies it, the school's contract with D-11 will expire June 30.

"I'm at a loss for words," Norton said. "I have spent many a sleepless night wondering what we could have done differently to improve our financial posture. Winning the lottery seems like a really poor plan, but that's about where we are."

The school is facing a $237,000 deficit and does not have enough money to cover the shortfall. Its lack of reserves are in violation of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and its education management company is in receivership. Also, the academic performance of middle school students in particular has not improved adequately, according to district documents.

Gledich said the district will form a transition team and reach out to STAR's 360 students and provide information to their families on other schools in their neighborhood or elsewhere in the district. About 150 of STAR's students live outside D-11 boundaries, he said.

"Even though they are STAR Charter School students, they are District 11 students," Gledich said. "It's not just a denial; there's a lot of work that will follow to make sure parents are aware of the choices available and that the students are taken care of."

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