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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 approves two new charter schools

Imagine Schools submitted applications to the School District 49 Board of Education at the October board meeting, seeking approval for two new K-8 charter schools.Founded by Dennis Bakke and his wife, Eileen, a former teacher; Imagine Schools is a Virginia-based nonprofit organization that operates 51 public charter and independent schools throughout the country.Despite concerns from some board members about the approval of two applications at one time, both schools got the nod to go forward.In the absence of board vice president Dave Stark, the board unanimously voted to approve Indigo Ranch, an elementary school near the intersection of Dublin Boulevard and Peterson Road. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2008.Although board treasurer Randall Brungardt voted no, the rest of the board members also approved a second elementary school in the Forest Meadows development. The school, which is under construction at Woodmen Road and Black Forest Road, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2009.Tony Pariso, regional director for Imagine Schools, said each school will cost about $8 million and accommodate 750 students. Imagine Schools funds the charter schools’ construction.Tina Leone, principal of Indigo Ranch and former principal of Rocky Mountain Classical Academy, said a classical, core knowledge curriculum will be taught at the new charter schools. “The students will be classically trained, culturally literate and globally prepared to compete in the 21st century,” Leone said.Board director Anna Bartha questioned Leone about her commitment to Imagine Schools after her departure from RMCA. Bartha expressed concern that Leone might leave Indigo Ranch.Leone said she has worked with charter schools for 13 years. “I have devoted my life to charter schools,” she said. “We have to jump higher and run faster. And people still come because they are committed to parental choice.”Board members Bartha, Brundgardt and Amy McClelland said they were reluctant to approve both applications, preferring to first assess Indigo Ranch’s success.However, Pariso said the approval of both applications allows Imagine Schools to purchase land at a time when the market is favorable to the buyer. Construction costs are down as well, he said. “The more time you have for construction, the more positive you can be that you will open on time,” he said.Board president Dave Martin, who favored the approval of both, said, “Less money will go into facilities and land if we approve both applications, leaving more money for classrooms.” He also noted that Indigo Ranch’s location near Skyview Middle School will relieve overcrowding.Martin said the application approval process was one of the setbacks for the Banning Lewis Ranch Academy. He said their application wasn’t approved until spring, which allowed them only six months to get permits and build the school. “They were always behind, and they never caught up while the kids were in school,” Martin said.Pariso said he is currently discussing permits with Colorado Springs.Brundgardt asked Leone how the schools will handle special needs children. Leone said they will purchase special needs services from D 49, adding that they already have met with Chad Wight, director of special services.Pariso said Imagine Schools had considered applying for a third K-8 school as well as a high school but decided against it at this time. “We don’t want to overbuild any more than you do,” he said. “The whole issue is having enough enrollments. There is a fall off in charter school enrollments between eighth and ninth grade.”Before the vote for the Forest Meadows’ charter school, Bartha said she had concerns about the process. “I am not happy about how this charter school came about,” she said. “I will hold this charter school to the highest level and integrity in this district.”By Colorado law, after approving the applications, the board has 90 days to enter into a contract with Imagine Schools for the two schools, said Brad Miller, D 49 legal representative.Karen Hobsen, D 49 teacher and member of the district advisory and accountability committee, said although the committee recommended that the board approve the applications, not all committee members favored the recommendation.”We hope the community does not think charter schools are the answer to building schools,” she said.

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