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Dougco launches call for charter schools

CASTLE ROCK – A second large Colorado school district has approved the launch of a “call for new schools” process, though the focus of the Douglas County plan is charter schools.

Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen addresses the school board in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo.
Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen addresses the school board in this EdNews file photo.
Scott Elliott

Douglas County school board members approved the request for proposals, or RFP, process at their Oct. 16 meeting, when they also agreed to ask the State Board of Education for a waiver from the charter application window outlined in state law.

In essence, Dougco officials said, the growing district will use the RFP process to seek proposals from charter operators willing to meet specific district needs, such as locating in areas where district schools need relief from crowding.

The district could then partner with an approved charter operator to build the school, as it’s doing with Aspen View Academy and American Academy charters, said Bill Moffitt, the district’s chief operating officer.

In the case of Aspen View, for example, the district provided the land and helped the charter with financing by issuing a $15.5 million certificate of participation. Aspen View officials are using the funding to build the school and are under contract to pay the district back over 25 years.

When Aspen View has paid off the debt, the district will deed the property to the charter, Moffitt said. The charter held its ground-breaking Oct. 21.

From the district’s perspective, Moffitt said, such partnerships honor choice and build school capacity – Aspen View has agreed to weight its enrollment lottery in favor of students attending three nearby neighborhood schools to relieve crowding.

Dougco school board President John Carson said the RFP process “represents the kind of innovative thinking we have to do.”

“The voters of Douglas County have decided they are not willing to raise taxes right now,” said Carson, noting voters rejected bond issues to build schools in 2008 and 2011. “We’re a very fast-growing school district and, in some areas of this county, we’re going to have to start building some schools.”

As part of the new RFP, board members are asking the State Board of Education to waive state law requiring districts to accept charter school applications between Aug. 15 and Oct. 1, which typically means approved new charters open the following fall – or less than a year later.

Instead, Dougco wants its charter application window to be between March 15 and April 30, with approved charters opening the fall of the following year – or more than a year later.

Denver Public Schools has similarly shifted its charter application window to the spring to fit an RFP or call for new schools, though DPS also solicits proposals from non-charter applicants such as the teachers union-led Math and Science Leadership Academy and the Denver Green School, also started by district educators.

Pat McGraw, the district’s development and innovation officer, said the Dougco process was based on Denver’s, but with a narrower focus on charters. And while the DPS call for schools comes annually, McGraw said Dougco will issue an RFP only as needed.

The district doesn’t plan to issue an RFP this spring, Moffitt noted. A sample RFP attached to the Oct. 16 school board agenda listed an identified need as a charter in the Legend High School area. But Moffitt said American Academy charter has agreed to locate its second campus there.

As with Aspen View, the new American Academy charter will open on district land though,in this case, the charter arranged its own financing.

“Charters are not obligated to put schools where we’d like them to,” Moffitt said. “They could decide to locate in an area of non-growth and that could have an adverse impact on neighborhood schools.”

District leaders feel comfortable about the charters’ ability to meet the terms of their agreements, he said, adding, “If not, the district could take over the school in an area where we need capacity anyway.”

Superintendent Liz Fagen said district officials have considered co-locating charters, as Denver does, but space in existing schools is limited to a few classrooms at most.

Partnering with charters to meet capacity needs is a “win-win,” she said.

“It’s about partnering with charters better, offering choices for students and being efficient with taxpayer dollars,” Fagen said.

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