The Douglas County Board of Education has been divided in its desire to approve new charters quickly with the more recently elected board members David Ray, Anne-Marie Lemieux and Wendy Vogel more reluctant to vote in favor because of concerns about the impact to neighborhood schools.
School board President Meghann Silverthorn said state law says that “you can’t use the effect on other schools in the district as a reason to approve or deny charter schools.”
“We can’t deny them for that reason,” she said, “but we’re responsible and we have to make it work on our end.”
Although the school board makes a final decision on charters, it does so based on information and recommendations from the Charter Application Review Team, a subcommittee of the District Accountability Committee which is comprised of parents, teachers, community members and Douglas County School District staff The team reviews charter applications and makes a recommendation to the board to approve or deny them.
The group Douglas County Parents says charters “are an important part of the educational landscape in DCSD and have been since the 1990s” and that it “supports all public schools and would like to see them thrive in DCSD.”
However, the group said it is concerning to see the board approving charters against the recommendations of the Charter Application Review Team.
“By disregarding the CART recommendations for recent charter applicants, the board majority has placed an inordinate burden on both neighborhood schools and existing charter schools,” Jason Virdin of Douglas County Parents said in an email. We would like to see the board majority heed the advice of those tasked with the review process to ensure the success of all Douglas County schools.”
Todd Slechta is a founding board member of Apex Community Elementary, a charter school set to open in The Meadows area of Castle Rock in 2018 to help accommodate the growing number of students in the rapidly expanding area of town. The school will offer a Core Knowledge curriculum integrating reading and writing with science and history.
The Douglas County Board of Education’s approval of Apex in December was the culmination of a three-year process in which the school had to resubmit its application after receiving feedback from the first go-around. The charter review team recommended approval to the board.
“We think that’s a big reason why we got the bipartisan unanimous vote,” said Slechta, referring to the board’s often split stance on charter approvals. “We went through the process and were receptive to the district’s feedback and critiques.”
Slechta said he considered the process long, but fair.
The first step in applying for a new charter is to fill out an Intent to Submit form. This form must be completed and returned to the Douglas County School District Choice Programming Office by March 1 of each year.
DCSD uses a standard Colorado charter school application developed in association with the Schools of Choice Unit of the Colorado Department of Education and the National Assocation of Charter School Authorizers. The application is divided into 19 components.
Kim Gilmartin is part of No Waitlists, a group that helps new charter schools navigate the approval process by garnering community and parental support in the form of Letters of Intent.
Letters of Intent are a way of showing potential interest in a school from families who say they will attend if the school is approved.
“It’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing with charter schools,” Gilmartin said. “They are very hard to get started because you have to have all of this stuff lined up before you even get approved.”
Gilmartin said it all comes down to whether or not a school board is inclined to approve a new charter.
“That might sound very political, but it is,” Gilmartin said. “That’s my experience.”