Katherine Dorman is a science teacher and track and cross country coach at Ponderosa High School in Parker. She has worked in the Douglas County School District for 33 years.
And she has watched how the rise of charters have affected local neighborhood schools.
“The main problem with approving charter after charter is that the budget to run our schools is fixed,” Dorman said. “When a charter opens up and attracts students away from their neighborhood school, the per-pupil funding goes with that student. The neighborhood school still has fixed costs, but now less dollars to meet those costs.”
That means programs may need to be dropped and fewer staff are hired, usually leading to an increase in class size, she said.
Competition from charter schools, resulting in decreasing enrollment, is an issue facing a number of the district’s elementary schools.
“When a school’s enrollment goes down that low, they can no longer afford to have a full-time PE teacher and a full-time music teacher,” said Kellie Roe, principal at Clear Sky Elementary in Castle Rock. “So, they are either cutting those programs or they are putting educational assistants in those programs who aren’t certified teachers. Or, they do half-time. And you just don’t get the quality of teacher when you’re doing part-time positions. Most people want a full-time position, so it limits the quality you are going to get.”
Kallie Leyba, president of Douglas County Federation, the teachers’ unionbelieves school choice can lead to educational inequities across the system.
“When a district funds multiple streams of education, its impact on high-quality education is diluted,” Leyba said. “Resources are diverted from where they are needed most, and children are effectively segregated by demographic information.”
School board member David Ray also worries how that diversion will affect students who need support the most: “We have placed our students with special education needs at a significant disadvantage — especially those with significant support needs — because we have not ensured the equitable distribution of resources for these students in our charter schools.”
Charters are funded by the same per-pupil revenue as neighborhood schools. So for every student and dollar that attends a charter within the district, the neighborhood school they may have attended misses out on that money.
The per-pupil revenue for the Douglas County School District during the 2016-17 school year is $7,163. The statewide average revenue per student is $7,425.
Roe has had students who were enrolled in her school leave for charters after the school year has started.
“We have staffed for that student,” Roe said, “and then you lose them.”