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Durango School District 9-R bond passage would fund charter schools

Board approves $2.5M each for Animas High, Mountain Middle, The Juniper School
The Durango School District 9-R Board of Education approved allocating $2.5 million to each of Durango’s three charter schools should voters approve the district’s request for $90 million in bonds on the Nov. 3 ballot. Above, Animas High School teachers examine conceptual plans for a new school in January 2019.

Durango’s three charter schools will get $2.5 million each if voters approve issuing $90 million in bonds sought by Durango School District 9-R on Nov. 3.

On a 4-1 vote, the school board approved $7.5 million to be split evenly among Animas High School, Mountain Middle School and The Juniper School at its Tuesday night meeting held online on Zoom.

Mick Souder cast the dissenting vote.

“I disagree with dividing the funds equally. Their needs aren’t equal,” he said. “We should supervise the funds more directly than an equal division allows.”

Should voters approve the bond question, Ballot Issue 4A, the $2.5 million would be less than the $4.4 million AHS is seeking to meet its local match of a $13.69 million BEST grant it has been awarded to build a new campus at Fort Lewis College.

9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger told board members the district also is examining relocating Big Picture High School to an adjoining building with the new AHS campus.

Snowberger envisions Big Picture having separate classes and its own entry, and sharing some common facilities with AHS, such as a cafeteria and laboratories.

He described early plans for moving Big Picture High to FLC along with AHS as “add-on space to the Animas High facility.”

“All Big Picture students are required to take a college class. What better place for Big Picture than on a college campus,” he said.

AHS Head of School Sean Woytek said the best-case scenario for opening the new AHS campus would be in fall 2022.

“The $2.5 million does not fully cover our needs but does get us closer to the overall goal. We could be disappointed in this but choose to thrive in the creative mindset that we foster at our school and look at this as an opportunity to show our innovation through various funding mechanisms,” Woytek said in an email to The Durango Herald.

Woytek told school board members that AHS has $1 million in private commitments and savings that it could apply to the $4.4 million local match required to secure the BEST grant, a state grant that is funded by taxes on marijuana sales to fund capital projects at K-12 schools.

Before the 9-R school board voted on the charter schools’ allocation of the bonds, Woytek had praised the district’s efforts to work with Durango’s charter schools.

“If you look across the landscape, there is some animosity between districts and charters. It’s nice to be in a community that values school choice,” he said.

The vote to provide $2.5 million each to the charter schools came after two failed votes.

The first vote, which failed 2-3, would have provided $9 million to be divided equally among Animas, Mountain and Juniper. Board members Kristin Smith and Andrea Parmenter voted Yes and board members Erika Brown, Shere Byrd and Mick Souder voted No.

The second vote to provide $8 million to the charters with the allocation of funds to be determined after the election was also rejected 2-3 with Souder and Byrd supporting it and Brown, Smith and Parmenter objecting.

Brown proposed the third successful vote – providing $7.5 million to be divided equally among the charters.

“I believe we should give less to the charter schools,” she said. “We have extreme needs for our schools, and we have an obligation to the taxpayers to ensure our schools are taken care of.”

Before the vote, Mountain Middle School and The Juniper School also made presentations.

Erin Patla, Mountain Middle School board of directors president, provided an overview of a 10,000-square-foot South Wing expansion the school is planning to increase the amount of students it serves from 240 to 300.

The project, estimated to cost $6.75 million, would add classrooms for new fourth and fifth grades and expand common areas such as science and art labs.

Patla said the school has raised $800,000 for the project and plans to have raised $1 million by the end of the year. Mountain Middle made no specific request for a dollar amount it would like to receive from the 9-R bond.

The Juniper School board treasurer R.J. Rieger and Head of School Katie McCullough provided an overview of a six-phase long-term plan for expansion.

Rieger said the first three phases of the plan have been completed with the move to the school’s new location in Bodo Industrial Park. The next three phases of the long-term expansion plan would add three modular units that would provide space to expand into middle school grades and space for a cafeteria. The long-term plans also call for improved utility services to the campus and added technology.

Rieger estimated the next three phases would cost $3.97 million, and the school requested $2.5 million from the bond issuance.

“Juniper is in full support of 9-R’s decision, and we fully support the bond,” McCullough said in an email to the Herald.

She added, “The bond money will allow us to upgrade facilities, increase safety measures and innovate through expansion into middle school as approved in our contract. All of these items allow us to respond to community needs: safety, 21st century facilities and the high demand for middle school options.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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