Douglas County School District’s charter school options will grow slightly after the Board of Education conditionally approved an application for Lehman Academy to open a second location.
At the June 21 meeting, school board directors voted on applications from Lehman Academy and STEM to open new schools in the district, approving Lehman’s request with conditions and denying STEM’s request to open a second location in Sterling Ranch. A third application to open a brand new charter school from Novastar Academy was withdrawn.
Board directors were split over whether to support Lehman’s application, voting 6-1, with director David Ray dissenting. The approval requires Lehman to meet requirements, including a lease or purchase agreement for a school building, letters of intent for 150% of intended enrollment and a five-year balanced budget.
Ray said the replication was premature because Lehman hasn’t been open long enough to have solid data to support the school’s model being successful for Douglas County students. Ray said he has concerns about programs for English language learners and students with disabilities.
“When we look at replication criteria that says we replicate schools that outperform their neighborhood schools, that criteria isn’t necessarily established with Lehman,” he said. “For me, it’s not a solid no, it’s not yet, until we have an established track record for the school.”
Directors Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson echoed some of the concerns Ray voiced, but still voted to approve Lehman’s request.
Unlike the Lehman vote, the STEM decision was unanimous to deny the application. Staff recommended the STEM application be denied due to a lack of students intending to enroll, budget concerns about fiscal stability and a lack of staff for English language learners, gifted and talented students and students with disabilities.
Additionally, the location STEM proposed for its Sterling Ranch school is one the district has not yet decided whether it can be used for charters.
Several directors cited the fact that the district has not determined whether it needs the land in Sterling Ranch reserved for a school, which would be determined by the district’s Long Range Planning Committee.
A significant amount of public comment at recent school board meetings and during the April 26 public hearing on the charter applications raised concerns about Sterling Ranch not yet having a public school.
Board President Mike Peterson said he would consider future STEM applications, but had concerns about the current application’s location, lack of enrollment and proposed budget.
“I think there’s a lot of merit to looking at STEM in the future,” Peterson said.
A STEM spokesperson previously said that if its application in Douglas County were to be denied, it would consider appealing to the state Board of Education.
Of the district's 89 schools, 18 are currently charter schools. With the approval of a second Lehman Academy, Douglas County School District will rival Jefferson County Schools for the second-most charter schools within a district, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
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