District 38 cuts Arapahoe Charter; 'blended instruction' to replace itApr 1, 2016 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
After lengthy debate, the Arapahoe school board voted unanimously to eliminate the school in its current form.
The Fremont County School District 38 Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to move to blended instruction at Arapaho Charter High School, offering a combination of face-to-face learning and online courses.
The changes are set to be implemented for the 2016-2017 school year.
The decision came after a community meeting to obtain input on the school's future. The meeting featured a long, emotional discussion during which trustees said they didn't want to bring an end to the charter school.
"I told the board I wanted to fight for this school," board chairman Charlene Gambler-Brown said to a room full of parents, students and teachers. "We have an obligation as a board to look out for our community (and) our students here."
Though they hesitated before making a motion for the change, trustees were forced to finalize the decision Thursday so that district teachers could be informed before contract renewals took place.
The change at the high school means an end to several staff contracts.
Low enrollment numbers and declining state funding mean the district won't have enough money to fund the charter high school in the future, superintendent Kenneth Crowson said.
"There are rumors going around that Arapaho schools and St. Stephen's schools are in bad financial shape," he said, noting an idea to merge the two districts.
FCSD 38 has reserves that could be utilized to help sustain operations, he added, but only for a short time.
"Arapaho schools are not in a bad financial shape," Crowson said. "We're solid, we're paying our bills."
Legislators during the recent budget session agreed to cut the external cost adjustment by one percent for 2016-2017 and 1.4 percent for 2017-2018. Crowson said the district is set to lose $1 million in revenue next year and an additional $1.5 million in two years.
The district is spending roughly $41,000 per high school student, compared to $23,000 spent for each student at Arapaho Elementary School.
Funding is provided to the district based on the average daily membership of a minimum of 50 students. The district has 43 students officially enrolled at the charter high school, but only 25 are attending classes, creating a loss in district revenue of $600,000.
The elementary school has 409 students.
The charter school is funded separately as a 9-12 high school, and the elementary school is the only K-8 school in the state of Wyoming. To become a unified K-12 school district, FCSD38 would need to enroll 500 students or more.
The district would become a "school of progression" if it reached the 500 mark, Crowson said, but that total has been unattainable in the past. Ideally, administrators would like to reach that mark and be granted unification status.
Because the district isn't a school of progression, though, the eighth graders that graduate from the elementary school are not required to go to the charter school and can instead choose any other school in Fremont County. Students usually choose to attend other local high schools, most often in Riverton or Ethete, Crowson said.
"Last year, we would have made that 500 (mark) had we had those students that are in Riverton now," he said. "So that poses a problem for us right there."
There are 43 students from Arapahoe that are currently enrolled at RHS.
Crowson told a room full of community members that their options were to close the charter school, change it to a blended instruction institution, or leaving it "as is."
After voting for blended instruction, the board made a motion to relocate the charter school to the administration building located across the street from the elementary school. Crowson said this move would help high school students be better connected to the educational community, with easier access to facilities.
Administration staff will move to the old charter school building on Left Hand Ditch Road.
With blended instruction, the district expects to gain about $666,000 to spend on students. Based on enrollment numbers, they will need to spend about $532,000. The remaining money will be used as needed in the district.
"Our K-8 is taking a hit next year too, so the left over money could help there," Crowson said.
The other options would leave the district operating in the red, Crowson explained. The blended instruction would save the district about $20,000 per high school student.
"Our expenses are nearly cut in half," he said.
Under blended instruction, students could complete core subjects like English, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science through online courses in the classroom with a teacher present to assist.
Electives would be taught face-to-face. FCSD 38 teachers could teach culture and language, music, art, science, technology, engineering, math, computer applications, business and accounting.
Additional electives could be taken at Central Wyoming College or through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Blended instruction would provide two ways for students to receive a high school diploma.
"I think blended instruction will be good for the time being and then we can move on," FCSD 38 vice-chairman Leslie Spoonhunter-Monroe said. "Our students deserve an education just as much as anybody else in the community."
Community members in attendance found it difficult to agree on closing the charter school. Most people expressed they supported a unified K-12 district.
"I wanted to see this become a K-12 district," former charter school principal Mel Miller said. "We can go to the legislature and put pressure on them and say, 'Make an exception for us because we're the only ones left.'"
He added that the district needs consistency. During his tenure, Miller said he saw five different superintendents, each of whom came with different ideas about what the charter school should look like.
"Blended instruction is nice, but it doesn't address the kids that are leaving here and going to other places," Miller said.
Three other parents voiced their opposition to blended instruction and closing the school. They did support maintaining a charter school until it could reach unification status.
Crowson offered a snapshot of poor high school attendance numbers.
Enrolled at Arapaho charter are 10 freshman, four sophomores, four juniors and seven seniors. He said freshmen attend school 62 percent of the time, while the seniors attend school 76 percent of the time.
He explained that students will total about 50 days absent through the third quarter.
"Our average is above what the state allows," he said. "We as a district allow 30 days."
For the 2013-2014 school year, four of seven eligible high school students graduated. For the 2014-2015 school year, 10 out of 16 students eligible graduated. The district projects that nine out of 11 eligible students will graduate this year.
The state requires students to graduate with a four-year cohort in order to count as a graduate of the district. Many students take up to six years to graduate from the charter school, Crowson noted.
"The numbers you see here are not the numbers you're going to see anywhere else," he said.