Douglas County School Board members are debating a change to their charter school application process, but one board member said the timing of their discussion gives the appearance of favoritism.
Meghann Silverthorn said her concern stems from …
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Meghann Silverthorn said her concern stems from the current proposal for John Adams High School, a charter that has signed a letter of intent to purchase the vacant Denver Christian Schools campus in Highlands Ranch. Proponents, who include former DCSD board president John Carson, would like to open the school in fall 2015.
The proposed policy revision would accelerate the timeline for final board approval if the charter provides evidence of a lease or ownership in “a move-in ready facility” adequate to meet its students' needs. Proponents still would need to meet all other criteria included in the district's application process.
“There is a charter school that is pressing forward with an application,” Silverthorn said during the Oct. 21 discussion on first reading of the proposal. “The appearance with the way this is timed and the exact content of this — it gives the appearance there is favoritism toward that particular charter. I'm not suggesting that is the impetus behind this policy. I like the ideas in this policy.
“I would suggest we adjust the timing of when this takes effect.”
Other board members said the change simply represents good policy.
“If they don't have to build a school, we don't have to require that time to build a school and drag out the time of their application for no reason,” board member Doug Benevento said. “I think if we don't do it, it's irresponsible, quite frankly. My position being if it's good for one, it's good for all.”
The school district's chief development and innovation officer, Pat McGraw, said his staff thoroughly evaluates each application, a process that would not change with the policy revision.
Silverthorn said Carson's involvement as a John Adams board member is not what prompted her remarks. She said other charter schools that once were interested in opening in Douglas County have opted to either wait a year or pursued sites in other districts.
“The other schools didn't have this same opportunity,” she said.
Silverthorn said she is not aware of any conversations in which John Adams asked for special consideration.
“I'm quite sure if that happened we would know about it,” she said. “But even with that being said, it still looks suspect.
“My main concern is that the charter application review committee has all the time they need to ensure a quality application.”
Matt Krol, John Adams High School's board president, said no one from the DCSD board or administration spoke with him about the proposed policy revision.
Carson supported charter schools during his years on the board, but said, “I'm not on the board anymore. I'm a parent in Douglas County.”
Board president Kevin Larsen said the proposed revision is independent of any particular application, and said he was unaware Carson is on the John Adams board.
“If it's good policy, let's take a look at it,” he said. “It's a first reading with a lot of questions that need to be answered.”
Larsen hopes the answers to those questions will eliminate any concerns.
The board's job, he said, is “to substitute facts for appearances and demonstrations for impressions.”
The proposed policy revision likely will be discussed again during the board's Nov. 18 meeting.
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