Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content D-49 school board to discuss application for charter high school

By Debbie Kelley Published: July 21, 2014

The application for a charter high school that would open in 2016 in a building funded by a November bond proposal is up for approval Tuesday night at a special meeting of Falcon School District 49’s board.

If board members accept the application, Trail Ridge Academy High School’s existence will be contingent on voters passing a $130 million bond issue.

On the table is construction of a $20.5 million building on Mustang Rim Drive in Indigo Ranch that would accommodate 650 students.

Primarily feeding into the school would be students leaving eighth grade from other D-49 charter schools.

D-49 would own and maintain the building, which would be built specifically for Trail Ridge Academy.

The district has four existing charter schools and another, Valiant Academy, scheduled to open in the fall of 2015 that is approved for high school grades. But no charter high school currently exists. One of its charter schools had operated a high school, but it closed four years ago.

“We definitely need a charter high school in this district,” board President Tammy Harold said Monday. “A good amount of our kids are leaving our district for other charter high schools. They’re not leaving for other traditional high schools.”

Only 40 percent of charter school students attend D-49 high schools, according to district records.

The board has held two public hearings on Trail Ridge Academy’s application, one in June and another July 10.

Eighty-eight parents and others from the community signed a letter of opposition that was presented at the June 25 meeting.

Opponents said they believe the proposed school would compete with neighboring high schools, instead of collaborate with them. They also expressed their dissatisfaction for what they see as an administrative push and not a parent-driven initiative for the school.

Chief Education Officer Peter Hilts took over the top leadership job in the district last summer, after working at a District 20 charter school, The Classical Academy.

In meetings with charter school representatives, Hilts outlined the plan for a new charter high school, saying he wants D-49 to be the best authorizer for charter schools in the nation and be a “portfolio” district, providing many educational options for parents.

Andy Franko, chief administrative officer at Banning Lewis Ranch Academy, a D-49 charter school, said the founding committee represents the interests of charter school parents.

Representatives from each of D-49’s charter schools, along with a district liaison and a charter school official are on the committee.

“We’ve had many more than 88 letters of support from our families,” he said. “I understand some of the opponents — it feels like they’ll be paying for something their kids wouldn’t use. But it’s a public school, and we’re all in the same boat as far as that goes.”

The committee had just six weeks to work on the proposal and submit it in time to meet the district’s new spring application process. The short timeframe resulted in lengthy discussions with the board about the proposed educational plan and budget.

Four “C”s would distinguish the charter school, according to the application: “community” involvement, “character” education, rich “content” and “challenging” standards.

“This is something I ultimately want to have succeed,” board secretary Marie LaVere-Wright told charter school applicants in June.

If approved, Trail Ridge Academy’s application would cover a five-year term, starting in July 2016, and carry several conditions to address issues that have come up during the public hearings.

Those include presenting an enhanced plan for an educational program, more specifics about programs and classes, a balanced budget, details of governance and parental involvement, a clarified mission and vision and an explanation of the transitioning of the application team to the initial governing board.

Covering northeast Colorado Springs and the Falcon area of El Paso County, D-49 is going to voters for the third time in five years with a school finance proposal to address crowding.

Of the district’s 22 existing school buildings, 19 are operating over capacity, according to Brett Ridgway, chief business officer.

The plan that hinges on voter approval would address overcrowding issues at 15 of the district’s 18 coordinated schools. It includes new elementary and middle school space in the central and northern parts of the district.

A mill levy override to use funds from a 2005-approved override for operational purposes will be another component of the ballot question.

For the bond issue, on a $250,000 home, the cost to the taxpayer would be about $5 a month for the 25-year lifespan of the bond.

“It’ll be up to the community to decide if they want another choice for a high school,” Harold said.

The board also will discuss ballot language at Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the district administration office at 10850 E. Woodmen Road in Peyton. Information is available at www.d49.org.

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