Charter frustrated by lack of help

School district says finding location isn’t its responsibility


Supporters of a prospective charter school with nowhere to build believe the Douglas County School District has the power to help it, but district leaders say it isn’t their responsibility.

Under a process adopted in 2012, it will only help charter schools if the district has a need for more student capacity.

World Compass Academy, which already has a list of 500 potential students, is fast approaching a critical deadline. Its backers say they’ve done an exhaustive search for space in the Castle Rock area and are out of options. They also are nearly out of time to make their desired fall 2014 opening.

“We can’t expect parents to enroll (students) without a location,” World Compass Academy board president Bethany Merkling said. “We’re willing to partner with the district; anything they’d be willing to offer us would be something we’d consider.

“From our perspective, there are thousands of kids on (charter school) wait lists all over Castle Rock. So to me that indicates there’s a need for more charters.”

The best option, they believe, is to lease a town-owned lot reserved for a school in the developing Crystal Valley Ranch neighborhood in southern Castle Rock. Crystal Ranch’s developer also wants to see the charter built there.

But DCSD leaders say those lengthy lists — some of which extend years into the future — don’t indicate a lack of seats for the district’s students.

“We are here to support World Compass Academy,” said Richard Cosgrove, DCSD’s director of planning and construction. “It’s just right now we can’t give up a dedicated school site because we don’t have capacity needs.

“We have to be prudent and hold onto future school sites for the growth that’s going to happen.”

DCSD adopted the request-for-proposal process after it assisted Castle Rock’s Aspen View Academy and the Parker campus of American Academy — both of which opened in 2013 after agreeing to offset capacity needs by giving priority to neighborhood students.

District officials said they needed to build new schools in those areas, but didn’t have the money to do so. The two charters’ willingness to accept neighborhood students made providing a site to American Academy and helping Aspen View with both a site and financing a win for all.

In the future, “If and when we do need classroom space, we could issue an RFP for charter schools,” Cosgrove said. “That would be open to all and competitive. As part of that, we could offer the use of one of the dedicated school sites, or we may not.”

Crystal Valley Ranch developer Jerry Richmond said his company is platting 500 new lots. Currently, 600 people live in the fledging development. He also noted other developments in the area that will draw more families.

Richmond would like to see the charter school build on one of the two sites reserved for elementary schools; the other could remain open for a future neighborhood school.

“We’re very supportive of World Compass coming into the community,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem like the Douglas County School District is giving any credence to the residents that currently live there.”

A charter school is a public school operated by a group of parents, teachers or community members under a contract with the school district. It has more flexibility than district-operated schools in its choice of curriculum and school operations. Douglas County is home to 12 charter schools.

The years-long waiting lists are what motivated former teacher Merkling to help start a school; she hopes to see her young children attend World Compass. Based on her history and belief in the importance of foreign language, the proposed school would include early foreign language education in French, Mandarin and Spanish.

The international focus is not otherwise available in Douglas County now, Merkling said; it’s a choice she feels parents should have.

DCSD likely would extend World Compass’ application another year, but Merkling doesn’t think that will make a difference for them.

“The problem is there isn’t adequate lease space,” she said. “Unless a new option becomes available, we’re going to be in the exact same place next year.”

Another proposed charter with an emphasis on foreign language, Global Village Academy, aims to open for the 2014-15 academic year in northeastern Douglas County.


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