The Natrona County School District voted unanimously Monday evening against opening a charter school in Casper.

The vote signified a disappointing roadblock to a year-long endeavor by Guild Charter School co-founders Tiffany Leary and Wendolyn McGregor, who said they would likely appeal the decision to the state board of education in 45 days, once the district has filed its written decision.

Board members cited Leary and McGregor’s lack of administrative preparation and expertise, lack of an adequate teaching plan to prepare educators for the curriculum promised by the Guild and overlap with programs already offered by the district. Some board members expressed their desire that the Guild School founders use the district’s existing framework for testing new educational opportunities.

Board Chair Dave Applegate said in his closing statement that the Guild School was feasible as a pilot program within the district, not an independently run charter school.

McGregor and Leary said they fear the school’s mission would be compromised under district control -- if not immediately, further down the road. School board members change, McGregor said. If the relationships between the board and the Guild School become less friendly, the innovative school could be short-lived, McGregor said.

McGregor and Leary said that they were not surprised by the board’s decision.

Leary said they would take the board’s critiques into consideration.

"I don’t believe the charter school presenters have the ability to do all they claim they wanted to do,” board member Clark Jensen said. “If the charter school were a private venture and I were asked to invest in that venture with my own money, I would not do so, because I do not believe it has been as well thought out or adequately supported as it needs to be to succeed.”

New strategies

The Guild planned to offer a number of alternative teaching strategies to help students excel, focus on classical education such as Greek and Latin roots, Singapore math, which studies fewer mathematical concepts over a longer period of time, and have a four-and-a-half-day school week, with Fridays used for small group and individual learning, field trips and community service projects.

The co-founders said they had planned to open the school in fall 2016, with a capacity of 436 students and 30 to 35 teachers. They hoped to be housed in the old Roosevelt High School, a three-story building on K Street that should be vacated by spring of 2016, McGregor said.

A number of parents expressed their support for the Guild School before the vote, saying the attention to the learning needs of each pupil and the challenging curriculum was something they wanted for their own children.

Though some board members compared the low community turnout in support of the Guild School with the large turnout in favor of an immersion language program the district recently considered, Applegate said the community interest was clearly relevant.

“I take quite seriously the parental interests of 150 students in this district,” Applegate said. However, the representation of support at board meetings and at the Guild’s public meetings was less than he expected considering the 150 parents that have pre-enrolled their kids in the Guild School.

Charter schools

A charter school is a publicly funded school that operates outside the direction of the local school district. But, charter schools are also bound by their charter: They must show that they are implementing the programs laid out in their school district contract or risk losing funding.

Charter schools are funded much like other public schools.

Wyoming funds school districts according to the average daily attendance. Charter school students would contribute to the average attendance of the entire district, according to Wyoming charter school laws.

However, in the first year of a charter school, the school administration receives extra funding. They are also allowed to contract bus service, lunch service and curriculum from the school district.

McGregor and Leary started the charter school application process last year. Leary was a local parent, and McGregor was the head of the district’s gifted and talented program. In 2014, McGregor was part of a task force to look into ways to expand the gifted and talented program in Natrona County beyond the K-5 program at Pineview Elementary.

McGregor, accompanied by her friend Leary, visited a number of charter schools in Colorado that inspired the Guild School application.

The Guild School would be the fifth charter in school in Wyoming, and the only one to offer K-12 aside from Arapahoe Charter High School on the Wind River Reservation. Poder Academy operates in Cheyenne, Snowy Range Academy and Laramie Montessori School in Laramie, according to data from The Center for Education Reform.

Follow education reporter Heather Richards on Twitter: @hroxaner

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