Woodland Park RE-2 Board of Education Axes Plans for Local Charter School

District Leaders Cite Problems With Merit Academy Funding and Planning

Trevor Phipps

Despite a lengthy application and presentation made to the Woodland Park RE-2 School Board by the Merit Academy, district leaders have killed the initial plans for having a new local charter school.

This verdict, though, didn’t offer any big surprises, based on previous board concerns and skepticism regarding the bid for a charter school in Woodland Park.  Past charter school efforts in the area have faced a similar fate.

In the middle of December, a group of parents applied for a charter school in the RE-2 Distric,t contending they had generated interest from 100-plus families. The Merit Academy’s plan was to open up their school in fall of 2021 for students at the kindergarten through 10th grade level.

 However, after receiving multiple letters from the community on the subject, the school board denied the charter school’s application. Last week, during a special board meeting, district officials passed a resolution describing why the application was refused.

 “The Board invited the community to send comments regarding Merit’s Board presentation which brought in 118 letters to the board from the community with 52 percent in favor of Merit and 48 percent opposed,” the resolution said. “The board finds that denial of the application is in the best interests of the students, the district, and the community.”

 The first reason the district brought up in the resolution had to do with funding. “As of Friday, December 4, 2020 ,the Merit application for the 2020-21 Colorado Charter School Program (CCSP) grant was denied by the Schools of Choice Unit of the Colorado Department of Education (CDE),” the school board’s resolution said. “The denial impacts Merit’s “Year Zero” budget that was already of concern to the district.  Without the CCSP grant funding source Merit indicates it will pursue startup loans and other grants that have not been contracted or awarded at this time. The lack of confirmed start-up funding puts the school at risk of not being able to provide for essential educational demands to accommodate teaching students Grades K-10.”

 The school board also said that they did not have a clear means of funding the Merit facility. The charter school group stated that they would rent a facility in year one, and then build a new school in the future. But there was no route of funding set to lease a building or to construct a new one.

Lack of a Definite Facility and Long-term Plans

The school board was also concerned that the Merit Academy had no facility in mind to start school in fall of this year. The board said that the school district would have to vet the facility to ensure that it could provide for the educational needs of the students. The resolution also pointed out that the Merit Academy did not have a plan for a facility after year one.

 The school board also had more problems with the Merit Academy’s planning. They said that the charter school representatives did not present a detailed operational plan to properly educate students. The board was also concerned that offering grades K-10 was too broad of a spectrum of learning, and that the school didn’t outline how they would properly cater to every grade level.

“Merit failed to sufficiently describe the operation of the proposed school C.R.S. § 22-30.5-106(1)(h),” the district officials said. “No clear operational plan or description to successfully create, manage and execute a school start-up in order to be fully prepared to appropriately educate students grades K-10 by August 2021.”

The board also said that according to state law, all charter schools must offer equal opportunities for all students including those that are considered to achieve low academically. The resolution stated that Merit had not come up with a solid plan to educate students who achieve low academically, especially those who live in low income and rural regions within the school district.

The district officials were also concerned about the fact that the Merit Academy did not plan on providing any type of transportation to their school. Therefore, the board felt that students that live in low-income or rural neighborhoods may not be able to attend the school.

The school board was also not pleased with the Merit Academy’s plan to provide food for their students. “Additionally, Merit has not met the requirements of C.R.S § 22-30.5-106(1)(m) by failing to describe specifically how they will provide food services, especially to address the needs of low-income students,” the resolution said.

“The food pantry that Merit identified lacked details as to how the nutritional needs of students, including those who qualify for free and reduced benefits through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), will be met and how overt identification of those students will be avoided. Those students who rely on the District food service, in particular free and reduced meals, may be discouraged or unable to attend the proposed school.”

 However, the move to bring a new charter school into the district may not be over. The Merit Academy could develop a new plan with the school board’s reactions in mind and reapply for the school. During the presentation, the Merit Academy representatives said that it has taken multiple tries for other classical academies to get approved. They stressed the strong support they have received from families in the area, and want to stop the flow of more local students who are leaving the area for better educational opportunities.