A revised proposal to establish Casper’s first charter school continues to raise questions for Natrona County School Board members.
At a public hearing Monday night, supporters of The Guild Charter School said changes had been made to address the concerns that led the school board to deny their application last year.
Some board members, however, wondered whether the changes were substantial enough to alter their previous decision.
“If you made limited changes to the application, by what rationale do you believe a different decision would be reached?” asked trustee Dave Applegate. “And it seems like somehow you are suggesting we hadn’t done due diligence the first time around.”
“Do I wonder if it wasn’t evaluated completely?” said Wendolyn McGregor, the lead Guild Charter School organizer. “Yes, because comments were made in the process that things that were questioned (in the application) that were not in there.”
Meanwhile, Applegate said he was not convinced the school’s administrators were sufficiently qualified.
“I’m trying to evaluate that in my assessment, the first time around, was that you had not demonstrated leadership roles in the past that would give me confidence that you could not only be a good teacher, but that you could lead a school,” Applegate said.
“We have always discussed that we would like to, at minimum, contract with an administrator to come in,” McGregor answered. “I don’t want this to be about me being the leader of the school, because that is not necessarily what’s going to happen, so that is to be taken off the table immediately.”
McGregor added that under the administrative structure of the school, leadership was more collaborative. Such is already the case at Woods Elementary School, where the board and teachers play an active role.
About 20 people attended the hearing, with what appeared to be an equal mix of supporters, opponents and the undecided.
“I think the innovation, the class sizes, as well as the quality of the curriculum offered by the Guild presents quite a tremendous opportunity for my family, so I would urge you to support the Guild,” said Beth Worthen.
But some were concerned about the district’s financial needs in a down economy and overall incorporation of the school into the district’s system.
“We also oppose (it) because of the fact that this charter school would not be under the direct supervision of the school district,” said Delany Samples.
Dave Martorano said while he originally supported the charter school, its beneficial programs might first be tried within existing schools.
“I think we should pilot those programs within the existing framework, as we see fit as a community, and later on look at whether that would go better in a entirely different freestanding school,” said Mortorano.
If the board approves the application, funding for the school would come from the state based on its student population. Under the state’s charter school legislation, enrollment would be open to all Natrona County students.
The K-12 school would offer a rigorous classical learning-based curriculum and accommodate about 426 students at full capacity. McGregor said organizers already have 176 students enrolled should the school open next year. The district estimates it would cost roughly $1.5 million to $2 million annually to operate.
Meanwhile, the Guild would initially rely on the district for a building, though the participants are seeking private funding to purchase their own facility.
District Superintendent Steve Hopkins said there are some vacant buildings, such as the old Roosevelt High School, that could be made available with state approval.
McGregor estimates it would cost about $160,000 to outfit an existing building and noted there are federal and state start-up grants available for such purposes.
The school board is scheduled to decide on the application at its Sept. 26 meeting. However, that could change should there be a need for further negotiations between organizers and district officials.
McGregor said organizers would even be open to delaying the start for a year if that would help the school win approval.
“If it came down to that, then that’s what we have to do, because it’s what’s best for students,” McGregor said.