News Column

Falcon D-49 drops new charter high school from proposed bond question

August 15, 2014

By Debbie Kelley, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Aug. 15--Falcon School District 49's board of education agreed Thursday to not ask voters to pay for building a new charter high school that remains in the planning stages.

What the money would pay for:

- The proposed $107.4 million bond issue, with a repayment cost of $222.5 million, would: build a new elementary school in the Paintbrush Hills development and a new K-8 school in the Banning Lewis Ranch area; expand and renovate Horizon Middle School; renovate the field house at Sand Creek High School, construct a multi-purpose shop and labs at Falcon High School; add an auditorium, gym space and classrooms at Vista Ridge High School; expand Falcon Elementary; increase preschool space on D-49's east and west sides; add vocational program space at Patriot Learning Center; buy out Falcon Virtual Academy's lease purchase; add new roofs at Horizon Middle School and Sand Creek High School; install multiple artificial turf fields, and upgrade security across D-49.

- The proposed mill levy override would seek voter approval to not raise taxes but would re-direct a portion of the 2005 override for operations instead of repaying certificates of participation the district issued for capital needs. Of the $7.5 million collected per year, about $2.5 million would go for operational needs in four areas: teacher compensation, educational programming, instructional technology, and safety and security.

The board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday to finalize ballot language for both a bond issue and a mill levy override.

Questions for the Nov. 4 election are due to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder by Sept. 5.

Removing the $20.5 million cost to build the proposed Trail Ridge Academy High School in Indigo Ranch and instead building a larger K-8 school in Banning Lewis Ranch Village 2 will decrease the proposed bond amount of $125 million to $107.4 million, according to Tammy Harold, board president.

Since January, the board has whittled a large list of capital needs to bring before voters. Without the charter school, the proposal now includes building the K-8 school for about 1,225 students and an elementary school in the Paintbrush Hills development, along with expanding, renovating and improving numerous existing schools to address crowding.

The board approved the Trail Ridge charter application July 22, with several conditions, including that if the bond failed the school could proceed.

During Thursday's public discussion, Harold asked the five-member board whether they wanted to start the conversation with or without the charter school included.

Harold, board secretary Marie LaVere-Wright, treasurer Kevin Butcher and member Chuck Irons said "without." Vice president David Moore said "with."

"If we have programs that are for the benefit of our children . and we as a district don't invest in the program, that seems problematic to me," Moore said.

Harold said when the board provisionally approved the charter application, it stipulated that questions about finances and the educational plan must be answered before the application was finalized.

"Those are two big issues, and moving forward without solid plans, I felt this wasn't the right time to include it in the bond," Harold said Friday.

"As a board, we believe our district needs a charter high school because we have four K-8's, and we need somewhere for students to go. But not knowing what the charter was going to look like exactly made it hard for us to ask voters to approve it."

Andy Franko, chief administrative officer at Banning Lewis Ranch Academy, a D-49 charter school and a member of the Trail Ridge founding committee, said Friday he wasn't surprised by the board's decision.

"I think it's a tough decision for the board," he said. "I think they're very aware of what is needed and is best for all kids, which is what we're supporting. We want to make sure every kid has an opportunity to choose their educational path with D-49."

Organizers will work to get the charter high school off the ground by providing financial and educational details to the D-49 board by Jan. 31, submitting a final application for authorization and finding space to lease.

The school could open in fall of 2015 or 2016, Franko said.

"I don't see this decision as a setback, but as an opportunity to move forward on a different path," he said.


Contact Debbie Kelley: 476-1656

Twitter @inkywoman

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Source: Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)

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