The Natrona County School District has denied for a second time an application to create The Guild Charter School.
In making their unanimous decision at a meeting Monday night, the trustees cited an apparent lack of support from parents and the community, a lack of administrative experience and concerns over the $1.5 million proposed budget.
“I don’t want to sacrifice a group of NCSD children in the name of an uncertain experiment,” said trustee Dana Howie. “I do think a lot of your ideas have merit, if you really, really believe in what you are doing. I urge you, once again, to try to make it happen as a school of choice.”
The Guild would have offered a classical-style education with an emphasis on challenging coursework.
Charter school organizer Tiffany Leary said she was disappointed in the decision after two years of work on the project.
“They like the idea. They just don’t like the way we want it separate from the district,” Leary said.
Monday’s vote was the second defeat for Guild organizers. The school board voted to deny the charter school’s first proposal last year.
Unlike the first denial, however, Leary said organizers would not appeal the decision to the State Board of Education.
Only a couple of charter school supporters attended the meeting, which was noted by many of the board members.
“You would think if there was overwhelming support from the 320 parents involved that just more than few would show up,” said board chairman Kevin Christopherson.
Christopherson recalled helping the Casper Montessori School when it was in danger of going out of business.
“I stepped up with Lisa Burridge, and we went out and found a school. I personally put up the money, bought it. I spent an entire summer remodeling that school, and I had every parent down there at that school helping me at times,” Christopherson said. “That is parent support.”
The funding for Casper’s first charter school would have come from the district based on the number of students attending. The K-12 school was organized to accommodate 426 students at full capacity, starting with 176 students who had signed letters of intent.
The Guild initially planned on using a building provided by the district while it sought private funding to buy or rent its own facility.
Trustee Raymond Catellier said the charter school applicants underestimated the cost of using an older school building.
“If you’re going to move into some of these facilities that are 50-60 years old, those numbers don’t seem realistic of maintaining a facility of that age to be a safe space for children,” Catellier said.
Trustee Clark Jensen also expressed concerns about finances.
“Running a charter school is very much like running a business, and I see no evidence that they have the skill set or that they have recruited anyone that does have that skill set to comprehend the true cost of this enterprise,” said Jensen. “Copying off the budget of another school does not inspire my confidence.”
Leary had previously said a charter school was not the same as a business. She noted the financials in the second application had been closely modeled on a successful charter school in Laramie, after the more detailed financial plan in the first application was criticized.
Some trustees said that at times the meeting felt contentious, particularly an implication that some on the board had not thoroughly reviewed the original application.
“I do not believe the founders have the capacity for the leadership of a school, and they have shown me they don’t have the temperament to play nicely, as the comments and concerns you have expressed in your rebuttal are either adversarial or denigrating,” said trustee Debbie McClure.
Leary also described some tense moments.
“They say we didn’t play fair or play nice. They were able to talk a lot longer, and a lot more — it felt very adversarial, combative almost,” Leary said after the meeting. “I am very disappointed in a lot of things.”