Saying it was responding to residents of a Windsor neighborhood, the Weld School District RE-4 School Board rejected a proposal from a group of charter schools to buy land from the district to build a preschool to the eighth year which will open in 2023.
Weld RE-4’s board of directors officially declined American Legacy Academy’s offer to purchase 10 acres from RainDance for $2.1 million following a 4-1 vote at a special meeting Wednesday night at Windsor High School.
“This is related to the sale of the land and has nothing to do with the merits of the charter school,” Weld RE-4 board member Patrick Miller said at the meeting. “I support the charters. I am also in favor of maintaining this site in the neighborhood for a traditional public school.
American Legacy Academy applied to Weld RE-4 last month to open and operate two charter schools in the district. Weld RE-4 is the sole charter authority for charter schools, allowing the board to approve or deny applications within the district boundaries.
The application is in the initial review phase to ensure the application is complete, according to Katie Messerli, spokesperson for Weld RE-4. This review will take place before the application becomes official, and once this occurs, the District has 90 days to evaluate the application before deciding whether to accept or reject the charter in the District.
Miller voted by majority with board chairman Russ Smart, Lance Nichols and Regan Price. Board member Aaron Smith, who called the meeting from Florida, was the only one to vote in favor of accepting the American Legacy Academy proposal. Smith said he supports the offer because it allows for parental choice in schools, a reduced tax burden and relief capacity in RE-4 schools.
“I vote for what I believe is best for the students, and what’s best for them and only them,” Smith said before the vote.
Miller, Nichols and Price’s comments on the decline of the offer said they were prompted by an online survey of Weld RE-4 residents about the charter school group acquiring the land. More than 70% of unique respondents identifying as Weld RE-4 residents said they preferred a district-built, traditional, or non-charter school to RainDance, depending on the school district.
The district launched the survey, in addition to hosting an open house earlier this week, to solicit community feedback following a well-attended April 18 council meeting at Severance High School.
Of the 1,674 unique responses from RE-4 residents, 71% supported traditional public schooling. Eighteen percent supported acquiring the charter school while 10% expressed no preference and 1% said they don’t know.
Among respondents who identified as parents of Weld RE-4 K-12 students, 70% favored the RainDance District School, 18% supported the ALA Field School, 11% did not expressed no preference and 1% indicated they did not know. .
For RainDance residents, 72% said they wanted the package for a traditional public school, 20% favored the charter school, 6% had no preference, and 2% said they didn’t know. .
The district — for students in Windsor, Severance and West Greeley — has long designated the RainDance site as the location for a future K-5 elementary school. The American Legacy Academy group, made up mostly of local residents, maintains that its interest in the property is based on providing the community with another choice in education while helping the district alleviate its problems of overcrowding and relieving taxpayers of the future burden of paying for new schools.
Craig Horton, who is working with the American Legacy Academy Board of Trustees on establishing two charter schools in the district, in Windsor and Severance, was among the ALA representatives attending Wednesday’s meeting. Horton is the executive director of Academica Colorado, a Miami-based office of the for-profit Academica that manages the establishment and operation of charter schools.
After the meeting, Horton said while they expected the board to decline the offer on the much-discussed RainDance property, the charter school remains “undeterred” and will open a school l next year even if the opening is in an existing and older building.
“We will plant a flag assuming the school district approves our charter application,” Horton said. “We are going to open in a church or a small shopping center. It could have been in a brand new building. But we are not discouraged. These (charter schools) are tough…and we will continue.
Horton added that the group will seek private sellers as an option to purchase land and will continue to discuss with the school district. He expressed a desire to learn more about an unnamed property mentioned by Smart.
“We will explore all options,” he said.
Horton and other American Legacy Academy supporters took a hard line with the district to influence acceptance of the proposal during a public comment period before the council vote. Horton, in his comments, rejected a previously discussed option for ALA to acquire nearby land, known as the Labue site due to its location and condition. The Labue property is not at an advanced stage of construction, nor is the RainDance plot.
“It’s not on the table tonight,” Horton said of Labue. ” It will not work. You’re walking away from a tax advantage of two charter schools.
Horton said after the meeting that based on the results of the investigation, the ALA knew the council would likely reject its offer to purchase the land.
“When we heard that, it gives council members all the coverage they need,” Horton said.
The RainDance Land was included as a site for a 600-student K-5 school in the district’s $179 million bond proposal last fall. The bond measure fell through, but the district is now in the early stages of evaluating options for a new bond, which could be presented to voters this fall.
Wednesday’s meeting began with Weld RE-4 Chief Operating Officer Jason Seybert updating the board on the activity on a new bond.
Smart, the chairman of the board, pushed back on the tone and comments of some of ALA’s supporters during his remarks on the charter school’s proposal. Smart defending district employees, who have been working for months with ALA representatives on RainDance charter enforcement and land issues.
Smart asked the ALA about the number of students it could expect to welcome on opening day, noting that the total had grown to more than 700, which is higher than the 600 students the district had. budgeted for Day 1 in a new RainDance building.
“We trust district employees to negotiate,” Smart said. “We are not the negotiators.”
With Horton’s rejection of the Labue land, Smith added that he thinks there are other land options in the district that American Legacy Academy might be interested in buying. Smart, however, was not specific with a name or location on the property he was referring to.
“It’s potential, and we’re ready to work with you,” Smart said. “We asked for Peakview and RainDance (the sites designated for elementary schools in the bond proposals, past and future) because that’s where we have a need. We have to find something that works for all of us.