Charter school expansion request denied

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The ink won't even be dry on the School Board meeting minutes when the Dinosaur Community Charter School board appeals a decision made at the Thursday night meeting.

The Moffat County School District Board of Education voted 4-3 to deny DCCS's request to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes to their program.

"Walk before you run," was the advice given by School Board members, and Dinosaur officials said that tip didn't set well.

DCCS board president Richard Blakely said he already has contacted the charter school's attorney, who will be ready to appeal the decision to the state school board today. An answer is expected within a month.

The state school board cannot overturn the local board's decision, but it can urge the Moffat County representatives to reconsider. If the Moffat County School Board doesn't change its decision, the DCCS board can again appeal to the state school board, which will then make the final decision.

There are 12 students from the Rangely and Vernal areas who were planning to enroll in seventh grade at DCCS next year. Seven already are enrolled in the school as sixth-grade students.

Twelve additional students would have brought in an additional $100,000 in revenue for the school that would have gone toward hiring a teacher for the seventh grade and improving programs schoolwide.

The charter school opened this year with an average enrollment of 15 students in kindergarten through sixth grades. Principal Dana Forbes expects enrollment to jump to more than 40 for next year, particularly if the school expands to accommodate a dozen seventh-graders.

Not only did Dinosaur school officials attend Thursday's meeting, several parents came from as far away as Vernal, Utah, to plead with the School Board to allow DCCS to offer two more grade levels.

"We've given up a lot to make sure our kids have a great education," parent Brandy Joseph said with tears in her eyes. She said her student is doing better in the Dinosaur school than he ever has.

Other parents had similar stories. Students have gone from earning Fs to earning Bs, and from hating school to loving it.

Each has made the commitment to drive 20 or more miles one way so their child can attend the school.

Superintendent of Schools Pete Bergmann said he couldn't make decisions based on emotional appeals. He recommended not allowing the charter school to expand its offerings until it has concrete, valid results indicating the quality of education.

Board members backed his stance.

"This is a really difficult thing for me to do," board member JoAnn Baxter said. "I know how important the school is to these people, but we need to see more evidence the school can be successful with kindergarten through sixth grade."

DCCS board president Richard Blakely said the school has complied with everything that's been asked of it and is now poised for expansion. Forbes argued that a portion of the $100,000 brought in by the additional enrollment would benefit the entire school.

"You take that component away, and it reduces the resources for the entire school," Forbes said.

Board member Trish Snyder advised DCCS representatives to get the school "rock solid" and then expand.

"I think they've made a lot of progress, but I think they have a long way to go," Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan said.

He said the school already is having a hard time complying with state and federal regulations with the limited resources they have.

"I'm as worried about the services to those (existing) 22, as I am the seven going into seventh grade," he said.

The School Board has discussed several times this year whether to consider the charter school in breach of contract because several contractual provisions were not met.

School board member Andrea Camp pointed out that the charter school's compliance was questionable as late as March.

Board members Gary Ellgen, Steve Hafey and John Wellman voted against denying the request.

"We've already started supporting them, and I think we need to continue," Ellgen said.

He likened the board's move to sending someone on a journey with only half of a tank of gas.

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

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