A proposed charter school will not be permitted to purchase 10 acres of land in Windsor’s RainDance development following complaints from community members about the land not being used for a traditional public school.
American Legacy Academy, also known as ALA, hopes to open in Windsor in 2023 as a Weld RE-4 licensed charter school. But first, it needs a location.
The land the school was seeking is currently earmarked for a traditional public school that could accommodate around 600 students and open as early as 2024. The possibility of a charter school occupying the land has instead led to weeks of community debates and conversations with board of directors.
On April 18, the Weld RE-4 School Board voted not to donate the land to the charter school at a pro-rated cost based on enrollment, saying more community input was needed. The next day, the charter board returned with a cash offer to purchase the land for $2.1 million.
Despite the cash offer, the council voted 4-1 against selling the land to ALA at a special meeting on Wednesday, with council member Aaron Smith the only one to vote in favor of the sale. Other board members said they just had to listen to their constituents, and it was clear the RainDance community didn’t want a charter school in the field.
Weld RE-4 does not yet own the RainDance property, but the space has been dedicated to the neighborhood as an elementary school for nearly a decade. District spokeswoman Katie Messerli said that, subject to board approval, the title should be in the district’s name by the end of May.
To get a better idea of what the community wanted, the district sent out a survey to all families in the district and shared information about the survey directly in the RainDance community. He also hosted an open feedback session on Monday.
According to a copy of the survey results shared with the Coloradoan, about 70% of respondents wanted a traditional public school on the lot while just under 20% wanted the charter school.
Board member Lance Nichols said the backlash against letting a charter school have the site was “overwhelming” and he thinks it’s important to listen to that community.
“I’m all for school choice and all for parent choice…I think it’s good, but it has to work for the community as a whole,” Nichols said.
Although a charter school on the site is still technically a district public school, community members have expressed concerns that it would use a lottery system for enrollment, likely not have all the extracurricular facilities that a traditional district-funded public school would have and would not serve as many students immediately.
In an attempt to allay some of the concerns, the ALA board has said it may give priority to RainDance students. That wasn’t enough to rock the board.
“We can’t give up sites that we know we can accommodate students in and we can fill a building with 600 in the first year,” said Russ Smart, board chairman.
Smart also said he was frustrated with how the proposed charter board approached conversations with the district board.
“I think there was a lot of lack of transparency in your agreements,” Smart said, addressing his comments to the ALA. “Everything seemed to be: we were saying no and pushing back, then all of a sudden it magically got better.”
“In a way, I feel like there were demands that were imposed on us that were never discussed; you just asked for what you wanted, and that frustrates me,” he said, adding that he still believed there was a solution but wanted to work together more to move forward.
Windsor developer Martin Lind suggested the charter pursue the district’s LaBue site in the southwest portion of RE-4, which Smart also said he believed could be a solution. However, an ALA representative told the board that it was not interested in that option during Wednesday night’s public comment.
ALA Board Chair Julie Babcock confirmed to The Coloradoan that they are not interested in the site at this time, saying it is too much of a hassle, as opposed to RainDance, which is willing to employment. She said the school will likely look at private land in the future rather than trying to work with the district on district land.
Babcock said she felt council should have surveyed all citizens in the district rather than just residents of RainDance and Weld RE-4 about how the land should be used. But despite being disappointed with the result, Babcock said her team were undeterred.
“This is our mission: our goal is to achieve school choice using a classical education based on basic knowledge,” she said Thursday morning. The goal is still to open the charter school in 2023, likely in an existing building while they build their own, but Babcock said that’s getting a little less realistic as the weeks go by.
Charter schools can be licensed either by the state or by a local school district. ALA chose to go the district route.
The official ALA application was submitted to Weld RE-4 on April 18, and the district has 75 days to approve or deny the charter. The decision not to sell them the land is completely separate from the decision of whether the charter will be eligible to join the district.
Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at [email protected] Support his work and that of other Colorado journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.