Durango School District 9-R Board of Education has approved The Juniper School’s charter renewal for a two-year probationary period.
The agreement will go through the 2024-25 school year. During that time, Juniper plans to add seventh grade in 2023-24 and eight grade in 2024-25 after adding sixth grade this year.
The approval came after the process was postponed because the district’s yearly audit was delayed as a result of Juniper failing to turn in financial records by the Dec. 31 deadline.
The school district wanted to stick to a shorter two-year probationary period instead of a longer agreement because the board wanted Juniper to address some of the district’s concerns in a shorter time frame, according to 9-R Board of Education President Kristin Smith.
After going through the audit, the board decided to approve the charter under a few conditions that represented the concerns of the board.
Juniper will submit monthly financial reports to the district’s director of finance which will include a statement of revenues, expenses and any changes in net position.
Smith said this was a way for the district to ensure that financial communication between Juniper and 9-R is transparent and the district wouldn’t have the same issues it ran into this year.
“The audit, I think you could say was severely delayed this year,” Smith said. “Typically, we would have that all wrapped up by the end of December. But Juniper was still submitting documents to the auditors.”
Juniper dealt with staff turnover in September as well as using a new finance software that caused the school to take longer to submit financial records to the district. Smith noted that finding finance employees in the education sector has been hard for schools and districts across Colorado.
Juniper Head of School Philip Werline said the school has hired a new business manager and that it should help with better communication with 9-R over finances.
“He has over two decades of experience with all these processes, and we are very fortunate to get him,” Werline said.
In addition, the approval resolution states that Juniper will utilize and compensate the district for the services of the district finance office to supervise and consult with Juniper staff in carrying out the annual audit.
This aspect of the resolution will be further discussed in a contract negotiation between Juniper and 9-R. However, Smith said the reason for adding that condition was to ensure 9-R finance employees were compensated for the extra work needed to acquire the proper information from juniper for the audit.
The two entities will discuss the exact compensation during the contract negotiations.
Werline said the conditions 9-R listed in the resolution were fair.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about the 9-R board and Dr. Cheser,” Werline said. “It just came down to communication, and this just improves our communication.”
Another condition states that Juniper will provide the board with student math and English language arts assessment data for the beginning of the year, middle of the year and the end of the year to track student proficiency.
Smith said the district does that with all of its schools but really wanted to evaluate how students were performing at Juniper coming out of the pandemic.
“We're really diving into how each student we’re responsible for is doing and we want to make sure that people are working hard to track that so we're not finding out in August that a student was really struggling the year before,” Smith said.
Werline said he is proud of the growth and achievement from Juniper students and believes this will be another opportunity to further discuss accomplishments in the classroom.
What’s more, a resolution condition states Juniper will provide a written statement to the district board describing Juniper’s recruitment and enrollment strategies and practices.
Smith said the state has been looking into charter enrollment and recruiting procedures across the state to ensure the institution maintains good practices when recruiting students.
The board is not concerned about Juniper’s recruitment practices but just wants to be aware of what the school’s process is.
“Charter schools are public schools, so they should be open and available to any child,” Smith said.
The district is trying to ensure that certain students are not being favored over other students in the charter school recruitment process.
Smith said the conditions listed in the resolution did not come from a place of contempt or dissatisfaction for the school.
“Our board is really supportive of Juniper’s success,” Smith said. “We really do believe in school choice and in offering options for our community.”