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School board approves $400k loan for Jeffco charter school

Members of the Jeffco School Board approved a $400,000 loan to charter school Collegiate Academy with a 3-2 vote at Thursday night’s meeting.

Fifth-grade students and families ask the Jeffco School Board to approve the expansion of the Deer Creek Middle School STEM program to sixth grade.
Lisa Cook

The loan is the second loan sought by the charter school in two years. The Jeffco School Board approved a three-year $150,000 loan to the school in December 2012.

Collegiate Academy was able to avoid using any of the $150,000 in 2013, Principal Chris Becker told the board. However, a 22 percent drop in enrollment for the 2013-14 school year, in part due to last year’s budget uncertainties, put the charter school at risk of even larger budget shortfalls, he said.

Collegiate Academy returned to ask for a second loan of $450,000 at least month’s school board meeting. The Jeffco School Board voted to increase the amount of the December 2012 loan to $250,000 to cover shortfalls but postponed the decision on the larger loan until they had more information.

On Thursday, Becker told the board that Collegiate wanted to amend its request for a five-year $450,000 line of credit to $400,000. He added that the school had 87 new applications for the 2014-15 year as of Thursday morning.

Collegiate Academy’s TCAP scores have consistently fallen below Jeffco's district average during the past three years.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against the $400,000 loan, stating that although they want to give the school and students this choice enrollment opportunity, they didn’t feel the school was financially sustainable.

Late in the meeting, the Jeffco School Board also voted 3-2 to approve a sixth-grade STEM program at Deer Creek Middle School after a large group of Chatfield-area families, including three elementary school students, spoke to the board in support of the expansion.

Parent Joanie Hendricks told that board that her fifth-grade son, who had applied to the program, comes home talking about science every day.

“We need to take that excitement for learning and run with it,” she said. “I believe this is one of those life-changer decisions.”

Regina Lane, a parent of a child with an IEP and multiple special needs said that no charters in Jeffco would accept him because of his special needs. Her son loves science, computer programming and wants a career developing technology to improve the lives of children with similar special needs.

Lane said the sixth-grade Deer Creek STEM program would give her son a chance to pursue the things he loves and be just like any other kid.

Fifth grade student Ethan Campbell told the board, "I couldn't come up with a good reason why you would remove the choice for me to attend STEM in sixth grade. I mean, it's a choice right? You're not telling me I have to go STEM in sixth grade. You're giving me the option. So, why take away that option?"

Several parents also stated that they would enroll their students in a neighboring district or private schools if the STEM program was not offered to sixth grade students.

Not all in the community support the expansion.

Bradford PTA President Meg Hollingsworth told the board she has a fifth grade student who loves math and science, but wanted to know more about possible repercussions of an expansion. She asked if there would be space for sixth graders who chose to wait until seventh grade to apply to the program, and what the financial impact might be on Bradford, Ute and Stony Brook for the remaining sixth grade students.

Superintendent Cindy Stevenson received permission at the Dec. 14 school board retreat to send a letter to families regarding the planned expansion of the existing Deer Creek STEM program to area sixth-grade students.

When the topic came up during the Jan. 9 board special meeting, however, Board President Ken Witt stated that he would not support an expansion and that the Jeffco Schools administration should cancel all planned meetings about the expansion.

During the public comment about the STEM expansion, Witt tried to cut off those in favor of the expansion early by pointing out that groups only receive ten minutes. Supporters protested the move, noting that many had signed up as individuals, not groups and therefore should receive three minutes each as per stated board policy.

Dahlkemper asked the board to extend the time.

"We’ve talked about listening being a key value of this board,” she said.

The board returned to the topic near the end of the meeting when Dahlkemper made a motion to expand the program to sixth grade students. Dahlkemper, Fellman and Julie Williams voted for the expansion.

In other actions, the board blocked an administrative appointment for the Executive Director of Employee Relations, despite public comment in support of approving the candidate for the position earlier in the meeting.

During the discussion, John Newkirk moved to hold the discussion in executive session, but the motion failed because the motion failed to get the required four votes needed for executive session.

Williams said she felt the appointment should be made by the new superintendent and her sentiment was echoed by Newkirk and Witt.

Stevenson pointed out this is a six-month position and that the new superintendent can make a decision to hire someone else at that time.

The position is currently vacant and a new superintendent will not start for about six months.

The Executive Director of Employee Relations is a position that has been part of Jeffco Schools since the 1970s, Stevenson said. The director oversees a number of district issues, including relation with employee associations, the implementation of Senate Bill 191, the Educator Effectiveness Bill, compliance with data reports to the Colorado Department of Education, negotiations and more.

“This is a critical job for the next six months,” Stevenson said.

Witt moved to hold off on hiring anyone to fill the position until a new superintendent is hired, and the motion passed 3-2 with Newkirk, Williams and Witt voting for it.

Other business during the meeting included:

- a vote to establish the Choice and Enrollment Steering Committee as a board committee that will address questions regarding choice enrollment in the district.

- a report on the current status of the Jeffco Classroom Dashboard.

- public comment from a large group of community members, including former Colorado state senator Evie Hudak, asking the board to reverse their December decision to decline the School Readiness Grant.

- a motion to amend the 2013-14 budget to use $7 million in planned reserves for fee reductions, a one-time employee bonus, and for additional funding for charter schools. That motion was defeated by a 3-2 vote with Dahlkemper, Fellman and Williams voting against it.

The next Jeffco School Board meeting is Jan. 30 and will be held in the Education Center Board Room. The board will discuss negotiations during executive session at 5:30 and hold the special meeting at 6:30.

Williams stated that the board intends to discuss articles 36 and 37 of the teachers’ contract during executive session.

Article 36 allows concerns the teaching leave taken by the association president during his or her term. Lisa Elliot confirmed that JCEA reimburses Jeffco Schools for all salary and benefit costs incurred during the president’s term.

Article 37 concerns the deduction of union dues directly from employee paychecks.

Both issues are related to nine changes listed by the conservative Independence Institute in their Policy Handbook for Colorado School Board Reform Leaders.

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