The Wyoming Board of Education has denied an appeal to open a charter school in Casper.
State board members said in their deliberations Saturday that the Guild’s founders were not sufficiently qualified to run the administrative side of the school. The founders also underestimated the budget required to operate the Guild and had a curriculum dependent on teachers spending a significant amount of unpaid personal time working for the school, board members said.
The board’s justifications for denying the Guild were similar to those made by the Natrona County School Board when it denied the original application in September.
Much hinged on the founders’ lack of experience.
“I can tell you leadership in your school makes a difference in whether your school is going to succeed or not,” said state board member Nate Breen. “I don’t see a viable plan for leadership. I don’t think they’re ready yet.”
The founders, Tiffany Leary and Wendolyn McGregor, had no comment after the board’s decision. Leary and McGregor wrote the 900-page application. They received some assistance from school district employees.
The Board of Education made its decision following a three-hour session at the Natrona County School District’s main offices in Casper.
The Guild would have been Casper’s first charter school. It was originally intended as a gifted and talented school. In public meetings last year, many of the community members who spoke on the Guild’s behalf were parents of gifted and talented children. But the founders expanded the school’s mission to include any student who wished to attend. The offerings would have included rigorous programs like Singapore math and aspects of classical education. They also proposed a shorter school week and individual lesson plans for each of the students.
Charter schools are public schools, in terms of funding, but operate outside the control of the local school board.
Boyd Wiggam, a lawyer for the Wyoming Liberty Group, represented the Guild’s founders pro bono.
Wiggam argued that the Natrona County School Board decision was inherently conflicted, that board members claimed in their denial that the Guild was too innovative to work, but also argued that the school was not significantly different from what the district was already offering in its public schools.
The Liberty Group has the promotion of charter schools as one of its core values.
School district lawyer Kathleen Dixon said local board members believed that the curriculum was a “mishmash,” based on different learning styles and would ultimately confuse students.
Five teachers sit on the local board, with an average of 20-plus years of experience each, Dixon said.
Wiggam also argued that the school board had based its decision on local teacher support, which is not required by law, unless a Charter School is an existing school seeking independence from the district.
Teachers didn’t come forward openly, Wiggam said, likely because they felt they were risking their livelihoods.
Dixon called the lack of local teacher support for the Guild a red flag, as teachers have proposed many programs and schools in Natrona County and openly voice oppositions to programs and schools.
Board of Education Chairman Pete Gosar asked Wiggam if the Guild’s founders had reached out to local teacher organizations for support.
He said he was not aware that they had, but that he was not privy to all that happened in the wake of the local board’s denial.
Dicky Shanor, chief of staff for Schools Chief Jillian Balow, said even if the local board’s decision was conflicted, there was ample evidence that the Natrona County School Board was right in denying the Guild’s application.
Wyoming’s charter school law is vague, leaving the state board with a singular objective — to gauge whether the local board’s decision was in the best interest of the community, students and school district, Breen said.
Ultimately the board agreed that the Guild’s plan was unrealistic and underprepared.
“I’d love it if every student in the state had individual learning plans, and (all schools) were student centered and could have that approach work for all of our students,” said Sue Belish, state board member, “But I have a great deal of concern about the governance, structure and administrative part. That is very troublesome to me. I am concerned about whether or not this could be a school that would succeed.”