Cornerstone Charter is Back!

The latest JeffCo Key Communiqué just came out (JeffCo Key Communiqué 2014-01-24).  At the very end, it mentions that at the Thursday, Jan 30th board meeting (Board Room, 5th Floor, Education Center – click here for a map) of the Board will reconsider the Cornerstone charter application.

This is VERY worrisome!  The Board turned down this application at the November 7, 2013 meeting (minutes here).  They gave the following reasons (see Attachments A, B – November 7, 2013 on the Board minutes page):

  1. Organizational & governance problems
    1. No explanation of how Cornerstone will transition from the applicant team to the governing board, except “All directors comprising the initial board shall be…selected by the Founding Committee.”
    2. No mention of ongoing training for the Board members, only initial web-based training.
    3. No description of how the Board will make policy.
    4. No Conflict of Interest policy stated in the application.
    5. No policy or plan to handle any disputes with the District.
    6. Parent involvement in governing the school is limited.  Staff can make up half the Board.
    7. No elections are mentioned to elect Board members.
    8. The application does not seem to understand legal requirements for advisory councils or accountability committees.
    9. No mention of how the community will be involved (beyond every parent volunteering 40 hours a year or paying to opt out of it instead).

  2. Budget and Finance problems:
    1. The two different budgets submitted relied heavily on grants and private donations, yet provided no evidence of those being available or pursued.
    2. Even assuming grants and donations, the first budget did not break even until year 3 and the second not until year 5.
    3. Revenue was miscalculated and no detail was provided.
    4. Salaries were not broken down by employee.
    5. General staffing detail was vague.
    6. Nothing was budgeted for a Special Services Staff.
    7. Estimates of district services expenses were inconsistent.
    8. No site had been selected, so the estimate for it is, at best, an educated guess.
      On Oct 3rd, the Board of Education requested a new budget be submitted, correcting the above deficiencies.  While the new budget did rely less on grants and donations, other concerns remained:
    9. Estimate of startup grant was overly optimistic.
    10. No funds for special education support staff was specified.
    11. Badly underestimated the costs for district-provided Special Education services.
    12. The list of possible sites were simply a series of addresses with no written estimates of rent from the owners or management.
    13. Nothing in the budget for modification or improvement of the site.
  3. Location problems:
    1. CAC says they want to serve the South Lakewood area. Their three potential sites are: Site 1 – Wadsworth & Mississippi next to NY Johnny’s Pizza, Site 2 – the old El Rancho restaurant in Evergreen , Site 3 – off the I-70 frontage road between Kipling and Garrison in Wheatridge (almost Arvada).
      None of them are actually in South Lakewood!
      (update 2-3-14:  A quick drive-through of the Site 1 location shows NO VACANT buildings!  Talking with some of the store owners, there was a vacancy last summer, but a discount-used appliance store moved in last fall.)
    2. No specific rent information from the owner or manager of the site is provided.
    3. None of the three locations are currently schools and will need renovation, but there is NO renovation budget!
    4. The school’s intent to use volunteers for the renovation potentially causes all kinds of building code and safety issues.  These alone could dramatically drive up the cost and significantly delay any opening.
  4. Special Needs Students problems:
    1. Cornerstone wants to provide paraprofessional support instead of licensed teachers.
    2. They intend to rely on the District for teachers, special ed specialists, and professional development.
    3. They do not specify how they intend to meet the needs of GT students.

If you read through the application you find lots of great sounding lines and high goals.  But when you look for actual implementation and thought out plans, you come up very, very short.

This looks like a high risk venture.  Would a bank really approve this?  Inadequate budgeting, lack of realistic planning, and questionable enrollment figures (their budget requires 284 students the first year and they have only 124 who have signed their “Intent to Enroll” form – 1/4 of them from Westgate Elementary by Wadsworth & Hampden.  How many of them would want to drive their kids to Evergreen every day?), means there is a very strong chance that the school would not meet it’s financial goals the first year, the third year, or the fifth.

The District has already granted a $400,000 loan to the very troubled Collegiate Academy of Colorado.  How much more risk is Cornerstone?  How much more risk can the District afford?

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