School looks to state for salvation

The Moffat County School District Board of Education will decide in April whether to revoke Dinosaur Community Charter School's contract or to turn management of the school over to the state.

Either way, Moffat County officials will have what they wanted in 2003 -- reprieve from the liability of overseeing a school that isn't providing services required by the state.

The Moffat County School District closed the charter school in 2003, citing its inability to retain a highly qualified staff and to recruit needed specialists to the small town.

Several of Dinosaur's 319 residents formed a charter-school committee and re-opened the school a year later for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Since then, enrollment has fluctuated from 12 students when it first opened to more than 50 this year. The school also has grown to provide seventh grade.

But the school has been threatened with closure almost since it opened. The state outlines specific criteria for teacher qualifications and special education services that the charter school hasn't met.

"Quite frankly, that's the issue we had," Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan said. "To provide continuous, highly qualified, appropriate staff (in Dinosaur) is an almost impossible task. We were taking a van of specialists out there once a month."

Officials reasoned it was easier to send Dinosaur students to Rangely, 20 miles away, rather than struggle to provide mandated services, Sheridan said.

The school's continued non-compliance has cost the school district more than $18,000 in attorney fees and $4,000 to $5,000 in staff time.

The Colorado Charter School Authority thinks it will be able to do what Moffat County could not, Sheridan said. The charter school hasn't officially been accepted by the authority, but the school likely will be a part of a pilot program to test the state's ability to provide services to rural schools, he said.

The idea is to provide services via the Internet, including having licensed specialists oversee -- by Web cam --teachers' work with special education students.

That degree of oversight may be unnecessary.

Sheridan reports that the school is 98 percent in compliance.

"They're not quite complete, but they are getting a piece at a time," Sheridan said.

School Principal Dana Forbes said the school has come a long way in providing the services it's required to. He has hired a Utah-certified occupational therapist. The therapist has applied for the necessary Colorado license.

"With her certifications, that's a formality," he said.

The school also has contracted with a Colorado certified school psychologist and a speech pathologist.

"We feel really good that we've made those steps," he said. "It's really looking strong."

The school district is requiring the charter school to put money in escrow for two years. That money would be used for the school district's legal fees should any parent claim their student didn't get services they were entitled to while the school was operating under the authority of the Moffat County School District.

And the school district is asking the charter school to pay $15,000 for attorney fees and staff time provided in excess of what the original contract requires.

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

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