In an urban district nationally known for collaborating with charter schools, two new Denver school board members made clear Thursday that the publicly funded but independently run schools can expect resistance from them going forward.
“I’ve heard loudly and strongly from my constituents and many people in the community that they don’t want new charter schools in their communities,” said board member Carrie Olson, a former Denver teacher who represents the east-central part of the city.
The district needs to consider the impact of opening new charters in neighborhoods where the number of students is expected to decline, said Jennifer Bacon, who represents northeast Denver. A common criticism of charters is that they siphon students from traditional schools.
“It’s time we start drawing lines in the sand around our charter schools,” she said.
Bacon and Olson, whose school board campaigns were backed by the Denver teachers union, made their comments before the board voted to approve the contracts of five new charter schools set to open this fall and renew the contracts of 14 existing schools.
Members of the board majority who support charter schools responded by saying the district’s focus should remain on providing high-quality school options, regardless of the type.
“The bottom line is, this is about our kids, and this is about our families,” said board president Anne Rowe. “They have choice, and they make choices that serve their students the best.”
The vote on the contracts of the five new schools was in some ways a formality, albeit an important one since the schools must meet the terms of their contracts to open. The board had previously voted to approve the schools, which is a bigger hurdle for would-be charters. Those took place before Bacon and Olson were elected in November.
Olson said Thursday she understands the process. But she voted against the five contracts, anyway. “I’m just concerned about the expansion of charters overall,” she said.
Bacon voted in favor of the five contracts. Some of the most ardent opponents of charter schools have wondered privately if she’ll live up to her union endorsement.
Bacon formerly taught in a charter school but said during her campaign the district had reached its threshold for them. In this case, though, staff has been hired and students have set their sights on attending the new schools in the fall, she said.
But Bacon repeated her call for strengthening traditional district-run schools, and said that in the future, “I will limit my votes on the approval of charter schools.”
The vote to renew the contracts of 14 existing charter schools was unanimous and sparked little discussion. The board also unanimously voted to delay the openings of eight previously approved charter schools that asked for more time to find school buildings.
For years, Denver Public Schools made its school buildings available to charters, including those it selected to replace low-performing district-run schools. But the district is not offering any schools the chance to apply for placement in its buildings for the fall of 2019. The decision has hindered the expansion plans of several charter networks and led some advocates to question the district’s commitment to restarting struggling schools.
Which contracts were approved?
The five new schools for which contracts were approved are:
KIPP Sunshine Peak Elementary School, a charter elementary school that would serve southwest Denver and add to the roster of KIPP schools already operating in Denver.
Rocky Mountain Prep Berkeley, a charter elementary school set to take over Cesar Chavez Academy, a low-performing northwest Denver charter school that will close at the end of this school year. Rocky Mountain Prep has two other schools in Denver.
DSST Middle School at Noel Campus, a charter middle school in far northeast Denver that would be the 14th school opened by the district’s largest homegrown charter network.
5280 High School, a charter high school focused on project-based learning that would also offer a program for students in recovery from addiction, eating disorders, and other challenges.
The CUBE, a personalized learning charter high school aiming to open in northeast Denver.
The 14 existing schools for which contracts were renewed are:
The eight schools that received approval to delay their openings are:
DSST High School VII
DSST Middle School VIII
DSST Middle School X
DSST Middle School XI
STRIVE Prep Elementary School SW
STRIVE Prep Elementary School FNE
University Prep III
Downtown Denver Expeditionary Middle School