Nearly ten months after approving an application for a new charter school, the Adams 14 School Board rejected the contract that would have allowed the school to open.
Tuesday’s 4-0 vote was taken without any discussion after several closed sessions and as council member Maria Zubia pulled out of the meeting. Zubia’s name was not called during the vote.
Council President Renee Lovato directed the district attorney to draft a resolution for consideration at a future meeting that would explain the council’s reasoning, which has not been discussed in public.
University Prep, which operates charter schools in Denver, had proposed opening an elementary school, designed with parents, in the Commerce City neighborhood. Many Spanish-speaking families want options with Spanish offerings for their children. Plans for the school would include a kindergarten and put students on the path to a bi-literacy seal.
Parents who wanted the school open, many of whom have already driven their children out of the district to attend college-preparatory schools in Denver, said they were confused and disappointed by Tuesday’s vote.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear that word – denied – after waiting so many months,” parenting manager Susanna Pasillas said after the meeting. The school, she said, has proven it “will go above and beyond.”
David Singer, founder and executive director of University Prep, said he would explore all next steps, including a possible appeal to the state.
School approved last year suffered repeated delays
Tuesday’s vote essentially ends the proposed plans unless an appeal is successful. The district’s rejection of the contract reverses a prior approval in December when the board voted 3-2 to approve the school.
The vote to decline the contract was unanimous, but included only four of the five board members. Of the three members who voted to endorse the school in December, only one — Lovato — also voted on Tuesday, reversing her previous support for the school.
Ramona Lewis has since resigned her position on the Board of Directors and instead accepted a position as Administrative Assistant to the Board. Board member Zubia fell ill during Tuesday’s meeting and walked away from the meeting room during the vote.
According to Colorado law, once a district has approved a charter school application, the district has 90 days to negotiate the language of a contract with the charter school. The 90 days can be extended if both parties agree. Districts use the language in contracts to provide oversight of charter schools, including the conditions charter schools must meet in order to operate.
District and college prep leaders have agreed to extend the deadline to June 28. In the spring, district and charter school leaders, including parents who helped design the school, negotiated the contract and completed a project with the help of a mediator.
University Prep’s own school board approved the draft contract in June, but Adams 14 did not put the contract on its own board’s agenda until this week.
Singer said he and his parents had more than 20 meetings with Adams 14 management over the course of four months.
“To see all of these efforts fundamentally rejected by the board vote last night is deeply disappointing,” Singer said. “The lack of public transparency from the local council is very concerning because it means none of us know what happened between getting a quality contract and experiencing a non- unilateral vote on this contract.”
Parents had pleaded with the board in previous meetings to take action on the contract to allow the school to proceed with its opening plans.
Concerns over preschool pledges
Joe Salazar, the district attorney, would not expand on council or district concerns, saying it would be clarified in a resolution, but said the district learned new information from University Prep in June. “who changed everything”.
“These changes have failed to deliver on promises made to the community and the board,” Salazar said.
Salazar said the December approval had only one condition, which was that the school open with a preschool for 3-year-olds in kindergarten in its first year. Singer said the charter is still working to open a preschool in first grade, but expects it to take longer.
At the time of December approval, the charter school planned to open in the fall of 2022.
Two weeks ago, the school board hosted a survey session where Adams 14 board members interviewed college readiness leaders about plans and what they thought were changes from the approved request. Several questions were about the school’s plans for a kindergarten.
Singer said the school still plans to open a preschool, but due to the delayed schedule, that may not be possible in the first year.
Part of that, he and his team told the board, is because the state licenses preschool facilities differently than other schools, including verifying the facility.
Board members also wondered why the charter network hadn’t already secured a site.
Singer said charter schools in Colorado typically don’t sign a lease for a school facility until they’ve signed a contract with the district to prove they’ll be allowed to open and receive the funding to pay. lease. According to the site with which University Prep is able to sign a lease, the charter calls for renovations to set up a preschool. With a new State Department overseeing early childhood education, charter leaders also wanted more time to accommodate delays or any changes in requirements.
The draft contract voted on by University Prep included language that required the school to open the preschool no later than its third year or face charter revocation.
After initial negotiations, Singer said, Adams 14 in June proposed stricter language that would prevent kindergarten students from advancing to first grade in second grade if no preschools opened. Eventually, Singer said, the charter accepted the wording, though the draft was not changed to reflect it.
Parents who support the school want choices
Adams School District 14 has traditionally not been supportive of charter schools and could face scrutiny from the State Board of Education for this rejection. The district is facing possible reorganization after years of low test scores, and many families have switched to schools in neighboring districts. Colorado law provides limited grounds for school districts to deny charters, and the State Board has overruled district denials.
Currently, Adams 14 has a charter network operating two schools – Victory Preparatory Academy and Community Leadership Academy – in the district, but the schools are licensed by the state agency, Charter School Institute. In December, this charter sought to be authorized by Adams 14 and argued that higher school scores could help lift the district average. But the school board rejected the proposal.
In 2018, the Adams 14 school board also rejected an application for charter school KIPP, another network operating in Denver that serves many Adams 14 families. a call. Now the district is facing another charter application it is expected to vote on next month: a proposal for Be The Change Community School, a charter high school founded by two local educators, one of whom is a parent in the district.
After Tuesday’s vote on the college prep contract, the parents interrupted the meeting, asking the board for an explanation.
Lovato told them they weren’t allowed to address the council at that time. When the parents walked out of the meeting room, the attorney asked permission to follow them to make sure they didn’t leave with the district translation headsets. He and several other district leaders followed the crowd.
Susanna Pasillas, who already has a third-grade student she drives from Adams 14 to college prep in Denver, and a 2-year-old who she hoped would attend preschool in college prep in her community, said she was disappointed.
Pasillas said she initially chose to take her oldest daughter to college prep because she was concerned about teacher turnover at Adams 14 schools when her daughter was in kindergarten at a district school. She also felt that the school staff were unwelcoming.
At University Prep, she said she felt welcomed and supported.
Josette Lopez, a single mother of four, drives her elementary students through college prep in Denver. Her children would be out of elementary school by the time the proposed Commerce City school could open, but she still helped design the school for other children in the community as she also felt University Prep was a place of support for parents like her.
“It’s more like my family, to me, that I’ve had along the way to help out,” Lopez said. “I could see the prospect of having direct communication with the teachers. Instead of calling the office for a student and being transferred, you don’t have to. If you have a problem, I have their direct number. The communication was phenomenal with them.
Lopez said she doesn’t understand why the Adams 14 board voted no after saying yes last year.
“I thought it was approved,” she said. “They have already given us a yes. I remember the night was very long.
Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at email@example.com.