BOULDER — Organizers of a recently denied Charter School application to the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) are still scratching their heads with questions after the State Board of Education failed to overturn the denial, despite an earlier ruling that appeared to favor Ascent Classical Academy Flatirons.
Those questions include why the BVSD superintendent withdrew his initial support for the school at the last minute and why a member of the State Board of Education, who also initially supported the school, recused herself at the last minute, causing a 3-3 vote on the final appeal, a move that kept the board from overturning BVSD’s decision.
Derec Shuler, Chief Executive Officer of Ascent Classical Academies, a network of classical education charter schools in Colorado, said the timeline of events just doesn’t add up, and he’s not sure what direction the school will take next.
Ascent currently operates charter schools in Golden (Golden View Classical Academy) and Castle Rock (Ascent Classical Academy of Douglas County). The schools offer a classical, liberal arts curriculum, and are affiliated with the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. Their website says their academic model focuses on developing good character and virtue.
Shuler said the school started getting requests from parents in the Boulder area for a school and after looking into it, they found more than 650 families wanting to pledge enrollment into the school from the east Boulder County/Broomfield/Lafayette area, which encompassed five surrounding school districts (Jefferson County Public Schools, St Vrain Valley School District, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Mapleton School District and BVSD).
Since students were coming from so many different areas, Ascent initially went to three of the five districts, hoping one of them would relinquish their authority to authorize the school and allow Ascent to apply through the Charter School Institute, none agreed. Ascent then applied to Adams 12 and was denied. Then it went to BVSD.
BVSD initially denied the charter application, forcing Shuler’s group to appeal to the state board, which has authority to overturn denials. The state board voted 5-2 with the three Republican members and two Democrats — Val Flores and Jane Goff — voting to remand the decision back to BVSD with a recommendation that board negotiate with Shuler and find a way to approve the school. The two no votes were the other two Democrats on the board.
Shuler said, however, there was little to no negotiation. In fact, he said, the district would not return calls or emails from him trying to find time to talk.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, just before the second BVSD board vote, Superintendent Rob Anderson reversed his earlier recommendation to approve with conditions.
“He decided to recommend denial two hours before the meeting,” Shuler said. “But he had an eight-page denial resolution all ready to go. He didn’t just come up with that.”
According to Shuler, Anderson told the board that Shuler’s group wouldn’t accept his conditions, despite never meeting to discuss them. Shuler said most of the recommendations were easily workable, but some were poison pills designed to kill the application, such as requiring the school’s board of directors to be local, to hold board meetings in the district, and to require employees work for the school, not the network, to name a few.
“It was a network application,” Shuler said. “And Anderson knew that.”
Shuler said he wasn’t completely surprised by the outcome; the teachers’ union was against his school from the start because of unfounded worry over being affiliated with Hillsdale College and it’s religious connection, as well as a standing dislike of charter schools in general.
As part of the application, Shuler said, they requested a waiver from the BVSD discrimination policy to put in place its own grievance policy, but the local teacher’s union called it a move to discriminate against minorities and the LGTBQ community, despite wording in state law that already includes that protection. The union organized its members to flood the board with opposition, Shuler said.
“Boulder has not approved a new charter school in 20 years,” he said. “Boulder just lacks institutional knowledge about how to authorize a charter school. They just make it up as they go. When you look at the waivers from other schools, it’s a fraction of what they required us to submit.”
But when Shuler’s group appealed a second time to the state board, he was surprised when Flores recused herself from the vote — also at the last minute — with no explanation why.
Shuler said he is now going back to his board to determine their next steps, which may include unprecedented action against the state.
“The State Board of Education is a quasi-judicial process when it comes to charter appeals and (it) failed to address any of the legal issues Ascent Classical Academy Flatirons raised in its appeal, primarily around the network governance structure allowed in statute and recommended by the Colorado Department of Education itself,” Shuler said. “Ascent Classical Academy Flatirons is reviewing the failure to consider these legal issues and other unusual circumstances behind the appeal and is considering a legal action in the courts.”