A plan for a proposed charter high school in Highlands Ranch has been delayed for one year after enrollment issues caused fewer students to …
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A plan for a proposed charter high school in Highlands Ranch has
been delayed for one year after enrollment issues caused fewer
students to officially sign up.
The organizers of STEM High School and Academy withdrew their
charter application during a Douglas County School District Board
of Education meeting Feb. 22 after being unable to meet criteria
outlined in a conditional charter approved by the district in
Miscommunications doomed the planned August opening for the
charter school, and there were not sufficient funding commitments
to go forward, said Barry Brannberg, a volunteer helping to
organize the school.
About 375 students enrolled before the deadline, but an amended
conditional charter required 426 students to ensure adequate
funding. The school originally secured more than 426 online
enrollment forms, but they were deemed invalid because they did not
have a parent’s signature. District leaders provided a five-day
extension Feb. 16 to gather the signatures but declined to allow
for additional time to process the paperwork because of deadlines
related to the budgeting process.
The board of education pledged to continue working with the STEM
coordinators as they prepare to open near Highlands Ranch Parkway
and Ridgeline Boulevard in fall 2011.
Sarah Siegler, who enrolled her fifth grader at the school, was
disappointed with the decision to delay, but said “more time will
only make the school stronger.” Siegler heard about the school at a
dinner party and took immediate interest because of charter
schools’ “proven record and dedication to students.”
“[STEM has] a fantastic model. The partnership of business and
education is revolutionary and is probably the next step of where
education has to go,” said Siegler, who has plans to enroll her
other three children STEM once they reach the appropriate age.
STEM will serve grades 6-12, but will start classes for grades
6-9 and add one grade each year until it reaches its full
enrollment of 1,100 students. The school had a tentative agreement
to move into a pair of buildings vacated by a publishing company
and was hoping to construct a 150,000-square-foot campus within
A team of private investors who planned to provide funding to
secure the lease balked because of the recent uncertainty, and the
lending crisis has made it more difficult for the school to obtain
“The only collateral we had was the kids [and associated
funding],” Brannberg said. “The investors believed in the school,
but it was a matter of headcount.”
The middle school and high school will eventually be separated
into two buildings.
STEM volunteer and marketing director Marilyn Manning said
“there is a pretty high chance” the school would have opened this
year if not for miscommunications with Douglas school district
staff that led to the enrollment snafu.
Many of those who enrolled this year are guaranteed a spot in
the school when it opens for classes in fall 2011; leaders are
still trying to determine whether to add a tenth grade class to
accommodate those who would have been in ninth grade this year.
Acting STEM president Mark Baisley expressed disappointment
about the one-year delay, but has been encouraged by the continued
support from parents who enrolled their children and the business
Those opposed to the school say district budget issues should
have pushed the opening of the school out anyway. Some pointed to
the confusion with enrollment forms as an example of the STEM
officials’ lack of qualifications to launch a school.
Brannberg acknowledges the school organizers are “new at this,”
but said STEM leaders followed every instruction from DCSD staff
members. The decision to wait until next year was based on a lack
of adequate funding because they could not secure enough signed
enrollment forms before a strict deadline.
“The main reason we did this is because financially it’s pretty
unstable,” he said. “To operate a school was too big of a risk
because per pupil revenue could take a downward hit. We’re not
willing to take that chance.”
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