ORSCH explores charter status
Proposal pitched to School Board, then quickly withdrawn
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-02-28
The founders of a private school in Gunnison floated the concept of seeking charter status under the Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District this week, only to withdraw the idea from the table a couple days later.
Ashley and Jackie Burt, who opened the One Room Schoolhouse (ORSCH) in 2009, went before the local School Board Monday in a work session.
Ashley Burt prefaced the presentation by saying that the purpose of Monday’s meeting was to gauge whether the board was interested in forming a relationship with the private school.
“We’ve seen efforts in the past where one side seems to be pushing and the other side seems to be resisting. We’re not interested in doing it like that,” Burt said. “We want to know if there’s interest at the board level — is this something we should continue to pursue or something we shouldn’t, to put it simply?”
On Wednesday, the Burts e-mailed the Times indicating they had found their answer.
“We will be withdrawing from the process because, as we stated up-front, there has to be a spirit of collaboration — and there does not appear to be one,” their e-mail read.
At the meeting, Burt outlined ORSCH’s history, which he said was “born out of RE1J four years ago.”
Because they are a private school, ORSCH receives no state funding, and instead charges $4,800 per year in tuition. If a new charter was affiliated with RE1J, the school would receive the standard $6,400 per pupil revenues from the state — a major reason why they are seeking the affiliation.
With about 75 students enrolled, that would amount to $480,000 for the school, funneled through the district.
The Burts were adamant that their application to form a charter school would not be considered a private-to-charter conversion, which is illegal under Colorado’s Charter Schools Act.
“This is not a conversion. It does not meet (the Colorado Department of Education’s) definition, and further, the definition of how this could take place is the option of this school board,” Ashley Burt said. “We would no longer be ORSCH, we wouldn’t be private.”
RE1J Board Member Bill Powell did not agree with this interpretation. In a subsequent interview, he called the idea of folding ORSCH into the public schools a “work-around” of the law.
Further, in a subsequent e-mail to the Times, Powell questioned the compatibility of the two educational cultures.
“I am not convinced the proposed discussion by the ORSCH representatives regarding ‘conversion’ of ORSCH into the public school education program would be of educational benefit to either the 78 ORSCH students or to the 1,700 public school students,” Powell wrote.
In the meeting, Ashley Burt contended that ORSCH was not attempting to pass on any financial burdens. He offered that if a charter was opened, ORSCH would donate all of its supplies and equipment to RE1J, staff would be hired through an open-hiring process and current facilities — upstairs in the Gunnison Arts Center — could be utilized for at least the first year. He said that current students would be given priority in order to maintain continuity in their education, and that any openings would be filled by lottery.
“Most charter schools consist of creating curriculum, finding a facility and gathering a student body,” he said. “We already have that in place. Really, it becomes an administrative process of, can we get this done for 2013?”
Powell asked Jackie Burt, who serves as the private school’s lead teacher, if she was aware of state requirements — which a charter would be required to meet — and if she would be able to incorporate those into her curriculum.
“I’m extremely aware (of those standards),” she replied. “Just like any school, we do our best to reach them and go beyond them when we can, and the way we approach that is through individualization.”
Powell also asked what benefit it would be to the district to have a “school within a school.” Ashley Burt responded that was not the purpose of a charter.
“There’s no economic risk. We’re not asking you for anything,” he said. “We’re willing to give you the entire program, and it also fulfills your promise to the state to offer alternative education programs.”
Board member Lisa Starkebaum asked what niche the charter would fill that students can’t already get in public schools.
“Families (that) choose to come to ORSCH know that our approach is as varied as the kids. I use five to six different math curriculums in any particular unit...,” Jackie Burt answered. “It’s easier to individualize than to make everyone the same.”
Board member Don Hagar returned to what the district is really about — offering students a quality education.
“There’s a million details to sort out but the basic question we have to point out is, is this doing something for the students?” he said. “We’re here to serve the children.”
Hagar added that he thinks parents are already voicing their support by paying tuition at ORSCH when public schooling options exist.
Yet, Powell said he still needed convincing that the program is worth incorporating into the district.
“We’re not trying to convince you,” Ashley Burt responded. “It’s just a different mousetrap.”
A similar proposal was floated in front of the RE1J School Board in 2006, when the Sage Mountain School sought a charter. That school’s proposal was rejected, due to concerns about its application. An even earlier charter school proposal in Gunnison was turned down at the state level.
The RE1J Board was planning on taking the topic up at a later date, but in light of Wednesday’s announcement by the Burts it appears the conversation is going no further.
(Laura Anderson can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)