Dinosaur school scrutinized

Board: Charter facility violated contract

Students at the Dinosaur Community Charter School will be able to finish this year, but whether they'll have a school in Dinosaur to attend next year is questionable.

DCCS is in violation of its charter school contract with the Moffat County School District, and district officials had the option of closing the school when a contractual obligation to provide special-education services wasn't met by Oct. 18.

"They're having the same difficulties in running a school in Dinosaur that we had," Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan said. "We got out of it because we didn't think we could provide a quality education. We thought we couldn't provide quality interventions."

The Dinosaur school is required to provide a special-education teacher who can offer consistent, on-site services. It also has to provide a speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist and school psychologist -- although those services can be contracted out and don't have to be available full time.

"Our original concerns about Dinosaur fit into three categories," Sheridan said. "Attendance, which has been resolved, financial and special education."

Sheridan said he thinks the Dinosaur Community Charter School budget just about covers personnel. School officials are counting on getting grants to take care of other expenses.

Finances are one of the reasons Sheridan has concerns about DCCS meeting its obligation to provide special-education services.

"If they do find someone, how are they going to pay for it?" he said.

Christine Villard, director of student services for the school district, said a school has several responsibilities with special education: provide services for students who have been identified as needing them and have a plan in place to identify students who may need the services.

The Dinosaur school has one student who has been identified as needing special education, but his parents have opted out of the services.

That doesn't mean the school district doesn't have a problem.

"We are liable when kids aren't being served and we are liable when kids aren't identified," Villard said.

The bottom line, Sheridan told School Board members Thursday, is that DCCS isn't in compliance with its contract and the school district has the right to close the school.

In addition, enforcing the contract is racking up the attorney fees. The school district's bill is up to $6,000 and Sheridan said that had to stop.

Board members opted to give the school more time, saying that would be the best solution for students, but that they would reconsider renewing the contract for next year if the issue isn't resolved.

"The ultimate question is what is best for kids," Superintendent Pete Bergmann said. "Right now, we're in this quandary. It is not in their best interests to close the Dinosaur school now and send students to Rangely or to be home-schooled, but it's also not in their best interests to not get a quality education.

"We're caught in the middle here."

Bergmann said it's Dinosaur's particular set of circumstances that has made this an issue, nothing that school officials or committee members have done.

"(The principal) and the charter school board are working their tails off to get in compliance," he said.

"This isn't a charter school problem, it's a geographical location problem, just like we had when we ran the school."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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