Board Orders Second Look at School

By Shelley Widhalm, Reporter-Herald Staff Writer
Charter application remanded to district

DENVER — The Colorado State Board of Education told local school officials Wednesday to take another look at Loveland Classical Schools’ request to open this fall.

In a unanimous vote, the seven members of the state board remanded the charter school application back to the Thompson School District Board of Education.

“You’ve got a tough hill to climb, but I believe you can do it,” state board member Paul Lundeen told the four founders of Loveland Classical Schools during the appeal hearing.

The state board will provide the founders with instructions today — due 24 hours from their decision — on how they can improve their application to meet some of the concerns raised by Thompson School District officials.

Loveland Classical Schools, proposed to open in fall 2011 with 350 students in grades K-11, would follow a Core Knowledge curriculum in grades K-8 with an emphasis on classical education in grades 9-12.

The founders have identified a site in southern Loveland, but until the school is approved, they cannot release where, said Trisha Coberly, co-founder, in a follow-up interview.

Their proposed school has 969 students interested in attending and has received hundreds of applications for staff positions, Coberly said.

“This is a tremendous application,” said Barry Arrington, the attorney representing the founders, holding up a three-ring binder with nearly 1,000 pages in it, saying that this or any other application cannot be perfect.

“If the district wants to nitpick an application, there will always be nits to pick.”

Thompson School District officials said the application fails to provide a program that would serve all students, is inconsistent in instructional approach, does not include a transportation plan and does not offer a complete financial plan.

“While it’s a good start, they’re just not ready,” said David Olson, the attorney representing the Thompson School District, as he outlined the deficiencies that officials saw in the plan. “The district is not nitpicking on the financial piece.”

The officials identified 23 small and larger problems within the budget that need to be fixed for it to be financially sound, Olson said.

In response, the founders said they would welcome all students to the school.

They said that with the level of per-pupil funding, they cannot afford transporting students to the school and, as with students who attend Thompson schools outside their neighborhood attendance areas, parents would have to provide rides for the students or set up carpools. The school also would not offer lunches.

Arrington said the budget is 99 percent correct and that after adjusting some line items, it will be in the black.

“I would like to see this school open,” said state board member Angelika Schroeder, adding that she hopes the founders add more detail to the high school curriculum and improve the financial plan for funding the school’s operations.

Before the state board voted, chairman Bob Schaffer said, “It impresses on me the need is sufficient enough that denying this application is contrary to the best interests of students.”

Schaffer is principal of Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins, which has a similar mission to that being proposed by the Loveland Classical Schools founders.