The Weld RE-4 School District Board of Education voted Monday against giving American Legacy Academy, a potential new charter school in the district, land currently earmarked for a traditional public elementary school in Windsor’s RainDance subdivision.
Board members said they wanted to get a better sense of what the community wanted before moving forward with a decision on the land but would continue to look for a solution that would serve the proposed charter school.
The school, also known as ALA, officially submitted its charter application to the Board of Education on Monday night but has not yet secured a place to build the kindergarten through fifth grade school leaders hope to open in fall 2023.
Leadership of ALA was in talks with the district to acquire the property in RainDance to build the school, but the board heard pushback from a number of RainDance residents Monday night before the vote and ultimately decided not to move forward at that time.
The board did pass a motion instructing district staff to work with ALA to investigate other land options, including the Labue property in the southwest portion of RE-4, and to gather again as soon as possible, noting that “time is of the essence. ”
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Julie Babcock, chairman of the board of ALA, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the board’s decision or how the charter will move forward in its land search. However, she told the Coloradoan on April 15 that they had not identified a contingency site in Windsor for the school if the RainDance land didn’t come through.
Weld RE-4 doesn’t yet own the RainDance property, but the space has been dedicated to the district to become an elementary school for nearly a decade and a title transfer is in process.
If the board had voted to allow ALA to move forward with acquiring the property, the charter planned to take out a line of credit for $2 million and would pay the district a prorated rate based on how many students enrolled, according to district documents.
Stan Everitt, a member of the charter’s board of directors who presented the request for land acquisition, told the school board that if the school was to open in 2023, leaders needed to be able to move forward with the land by Friday, April 22. The timeline is already “aggressive,” he said, but it will be impossible if they don’t hit that deadline.
The majority of residents who spoke against the school being built in their neighborhood were not inherently against charter schools, but felt one shouldn’t replace a neighborhood public school that would serve more children. One speaker told the board that he wanted a school in the neighborhood that would “serve all my neighbors” rather than just some.
In Everitt’s presentation, he told the board that ALA had received letters of interest from about 60 families in RainDance, which they estimated would account for 90 children in the school.
In total, ALA representatives said they have received letters of interest equating to more than 400 potential students.
One speaker, a mother of four kids in the district, didn’t live in the RainDance community but still spoke against placing the charter there. She said she supports charter schools and believes they can be a great option, but that this is “a terrible option.”
“My main concern is charter schools should be a supplementary option to (neighborhood) public schools, they should be an option for people who choose them,” she said. “They cannot be a replacement for a (neighborhood) public school.”
Jeremy Glenn, a district parent and RainDance resident, also spoke to the board in opposition to putting the charter in his neighborhood. Glenn helped start a Facebook group to gather people in opposition and said it grew to 200 members after just two days.
“Nobody really knew about (this happening) and knew that this momentous decision was about to take place. So the fact that people came out in such short order … it was a great turnout,” he told the Coloradoan.
“This is not excluding charters from RainDance or from Windsor RE-4, but it is saying that this land that’s dedicated to a public school and should stay with the public school system and be a neighborhood school rather than a charter,” Glenn said.
Of 23 people who spoke to the board over a two-hour public comment period, just six spoke in favor of the school going in RainDance.
One of them was RainDance developer and Windsor resident Martin Lind, who told the board that if they don’t allow the school to have this land, they need to find another solution because the need and want for the school is clearly present and having a charter is a way to “heal the community.”
“If you don’t want to give them the land there and that’s the issue … find a solution and negotiate for this community,” he told the board. “You need to be a problem solver, we can’t just ignore the fact that we need to house kids and educate kids.”
Board President Russ Smart later said he agreed with Lind, which was part of why he didn’t want to vote to give the land to the school that night. He asked for a little more time to find a solution that would work for ALA, the district and the community members of RainDance.
Smart said the board is working with RainDance’s homeowners association to survey residents and that the district is planning a community event on May 2 to hear from members of RainDance more about what it is they want. The event will be from 5-7 pm, though a location has not been determined.
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So, what’s next for American Legacy Academy?
The charter application for ALA was formally submitted last night and can still be approved despite the school not having a firm location yet, according to Weld RE-4’s Chief Operating Officer Jason Seybert.
Seybert and Smart repeatedly made clear throughout the meeting that the decision to give land was separate from the decision to approve the charter, with Smart saying he believes the want is there and the district can handle two charter schools.
If approved, ALA would be the second district-authorized charter school in Weld RE-4, joining Windsor Charter Academy. Ascent Classical Academy of Northern Colorado is also located in Windsor but it’s authorized through the state.
Per board policy, a decision on the charter must be made within 75 days of receiving the application, meaning ALA will know its fate by July 2.
“Charters are an important part of the public education system,” said district spokesperson Katie Messerli. “And with any new charter applications, we look to develop strong partnerships with our charter schools. They’re an important part of our process.”
ALA was hoping to be open in 2023 in an effort to address the district’s overcrowding — five of nine schools are currently operating at over 100% capacity — but even if it’s approved, with no secured land the timeline may likely be pushed back.
Weld RE-4 is also hoping to pass a bond in the next election cycle, November 2022, that will allow it to get started on building new schools. If a bond is passed, district leadership said a school could be open as soon as 2024.
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Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at email@example.com. Support her work and that of other Colorado journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.