The final vote wasn't even close. The state board voted 6-to-1 to remand DPS's decision back to the district, finding that Monarch had turned in a quality application.

******

Griffin, of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, says the charter-school appeals process is "an invaluable part of what brought us to where we are today."

DPS boardmember Mary Seawell.
DPS boardmember Mary Seawell.
DPS boardmember Jeannie Kaplan.
DPS boardmember Jeannie Kaplan.

Of the 174 charter schools in Colorado, 27 wouldn't exist if it weren't for appeals, according to Griffin's calculations. The test scores at sixteen of those schools put them in the highest category on the state's performance framework, he adds.

The state doesn't keep its own records of appeals, but Griffin's tally shows that there have been 134 since Colorado's charter-school law was enacted in 1993. (Some schools have appealed more than once.) Statistics also reveal that the state board sides with districts about half the time. That percentage appears to hold true for DPS as well. Six schools have appealed DPS's decisions in the past five years, according to records kept by Denise Mund, formerly of the Colorado Department of Education. In three cases, the board sided with DPS, while in three others, including Monarch, it sided with the schools.

Regardless of the win-loss percentage, the appeals process remains a "sore spot," says Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, a statewide advocacy group that represents more than 1,000 local school-board members and superintendents. "What we find as a pattern since charters came into existence in 1993...is that state boards...will not give deference to the point of view of the local board of education," she says. Instead, "they'll say, 'Local board, we don't think you have real evidence, we don't agree with your rationale. There are things you didn't do right, and you don't have a good attitude toward this charter.'"

That can be frustrating for school districts, especially those that are welcoming to charter schools. House Bill 1225, which was retracted by its sponsor in March, would have rewarded those welcoming districts by allowing them to apply for "model authorizer" designation, meaning they'd pledge to be friendly to charter schools and adopt a tried-and-true method of approving them that experts — and the state board — agree is best. If a model authorizer district's decision was appealed to the state board, the presumption would be that the district's decision was valid, and it would be up to the appealing school to prove otherwise. Currently, such a strong presumption doesn't exist.

The bill was crafted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools as a way to provide carrots rather than sticks to local districts, says Vice President for Public Affairs Vinny Badolato. The current system punishes districts with a rule that allows the state board to remove their "exclusive chartering authority" if it finds that they are treating charter schools badly. Charter schools can sidestep districts without exclusive authority by seeking approval from a special statewide charter-school authorizer. The most obvious carrot, Badolato explains, would be a reprieve from the loathed appeals process.

Representative Robert Ramirez, a charter-friendly Republican from Westminster, agreed to sponsor the bill, and Badolato worked to get the usual charter-school opponents on board. "But the opposition, interestingly enough, came from our folks," Badolato says. "There's a small group of charter-school folks who did not agree with this move, with providing this type of incentive, especially the appeals."

Mund was among them. The appeals process, she says, "is one of the reasons our law is considered to be a strong law. Typically, when national organizations rank charter-school laws, we're near the top." (Colorado is currently ranked seventh in the U.S. by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.) She and others worried that weakening the appeals process would erode the state's hard-won progress on charter schools.

Ramirez listened to that opposition, and last month, he moved to postpone the bill indefinitely before it even had a hearing. "When it came right down to the time, nobody was really happy with it yet," Ramirez says. "It's going to need a whole lot more work."

DPS was in favor of the bill. By Badolato's account, Denver would have been the only district to even come close to qualifying as a "model authorizer" and thus reaping the benefits the bill would have provided. Easley says he plans to talk to local state lawmakers about sponsoring legislation next year to check the state board's power.

As for the state board, Chairman Schaffer and the staff at the Colorado Department of Education directed Westword to Elaine Gantz Berman, a former DPS boardmember who now represents Denver on the state board. Gantz Berman says she'd be in favor of giving more deference to districts that prove they're fair to charter schools.

"If they've been using best practices and adhering to them and they have a good track record, why should the state board second-guess a district?" she asks. But the rest of the board may not share her opinion. The state board is a partisan body, with Republicans historically siding with charter schools and Democrats supporting school districts. Gantz Berman is a Democrat. Currently, the Republicans have the majority.

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10 comments
Krcurran
Krcurran

It is deplorable that Ms. Kaplan would "sacrifice" a much-needed school in the Far Northeast just to thumb her nose at the State. So much for responsible leadership.

greg
greg

After reading how Jeannie Kaplan has 'taught us all a lesson' with the second of her votes cast. I was 'taught' that school board members run, get elected and work as advocates for the parents and children in their district. I now see that I'm 'misguided'. Ms. Kaplan's role as a school board member is to, from her bully pulpit, stomp her feet, shake her head side to side and because she was so put off that she switched her vote the second time around in order to send a message to the state. Ms Kaplan chose to act like a 'child'. But then, she isn't on the school board to help parents and their children in her school district. Ms Kaplan is on her local school board to show us all that no one... will challenge her self anointed, superior intellect when it is her job to... change her mind. Always for the best reason... of course.

greg
greg

Jeannie Kaplan

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kristin norris
kristin norris

Amazing! Does DPS really think they are that entitled!

M.B.
M.B.

Kristen of course they are entitled. If you were to say anything against them they Punish. And you thought the only bullies are on the PLAY GROUND. The worst ones are at 900 Grant Street disguised as people who want "What's best for Kids". I know many teachers forced out of teaching not because they were bad teachers but because they had a brain. Weak management never wants a smart work force.

 
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