In consecutive meetings on Monday night, Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 administrators laid out “deeply concerning” issues with the Children’s Kiva Montessori School in advance of a possible vote to revoke the school’s charter. The CKMS Board of Directors met an hour later and voted to not surrender its charter to the school district.
The RE-1 Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to discuss the CKMS charter. At the end of Monday’s charter school meeting, newly appointed CKMS Interim Head of School Jon Orris urged parents to pack the school district meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s very hard to tell a parent that we’re going to shut your school down,” Orris said.
Because CKMS is a public charter school, the RE-1 Board of Education authorizes the school’s charter and can vote to begin the process of revoking the charter. But RE-1 Board of Education President Sherri Wright made it clear that a decision has not yet been made. She cited low academic performance as her main concern with the charter school.
“This has been heart-rending to me because I am having a really tough time making a decision that is going to affect children,” Wright said. “I wish that I could just wave my magic wand and say everything will be OK.”
District raises deep concerns with KivaAt the school district meeting, RE-1 Superintendent Lori Haukenes and Carol Mehesy, RE-1 charter school liaison and director of school improvement, detailed four main concerns with CKMS, which Haukeness described as “deeply concerning” – enrollment, financial sustainability, academic achievement and operational instability.
“The concerns for the district, and I’m just going to clear this up, is this didn’t happen two-and-a-half weeks ago,” Haukeness said.
Haukeness said the school district in September realized that enrollment at CKMS did not meet the fiscal projections in the budget. She said RE-1 has conducted several meetings with CKMS and provided the charter school with five notices of concern between September and November of this year.
Mehesy said issues at CKMS lingered well before September.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the things that we’re talking about this fall really originated last year in decisions that were made and academic data that surfaced,” Mehesy said.
On enrollment, Mehesy explained that education funding in Colorado is based on a student headcount in October. A student in grade one through 12 is equal to one full-time equivalent student, and a kindergarten student is equal to approximately one-half of one FTE.
Over the past five years, CKMS has averaged about 102 FTE. As of Dec. 7, 2018, enrollment was down to 73.5 FTE. Once RE-1 realized enrollment was down, Haukeness said the CKMS board in October made a series of cuts and produced a revised budget.
Mehesy said an enrollment of 98 FTE is the break-even point in the revised budget. Assuming that no more students leave CKMS, all kindergarten students stay at the charter school and a comparable kindergarten class enrolls next year, Mehesy said she thinks CKMS could have an enrollment of 90 FTE, which would still mean a budget deficit next year.
“That’s why enrollment is so important, and that’s why it’s so closely tied to your financial sustainability, and that’s why we’re so concerned about talking about it with you all,” Mehesy said.
Mehesy said enrollment dipped on Nov. 7, when the CKMS board informed parents that the school building would close because of asbestos and would move back to temporary space at Crow Canyon Archaeology Center. She said another enrollment drop occurred after a pair of articles published in The Journal on Nov. 29 detailed financial sustainability concerns.
On top of a drop in enrollment, Mehesy said a large facility cost increase has contributed to financial instability. She said CKMS has transitioned from paying about $63,000 for facilities to a fixed lease of $162,000 this year, according to the revised budget. This increase comes as revenues decline.
Mehesy said CKMS operated on a budget of $1 million when it opened during the 2015-2016 school year, with help from starting grants and a loan, but revenue this year is down to $830,000.
“It starts to eat up a bigger and bigger chunk of that and that reduces your flexibility around enrollment,” Mehesy said.
Among elementary students at CKMS in the 2017-2018 school year, 43 percent did not meet standards in language arts in the state assessment, and 46 percent did not meet standards in math.
Among students who do not qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, Mehesy said 22 percent of students at CKMS met expectations in language arts, compared with 41 percent of students in district schools who met expectations and 6 percent who exceeded expectations.
“In looking at this, there really needs to be a support structure for these students on how to catch these students up,” Haukeness said.
And then there’s the issue of operational stability. Mehesy said unexpected facility moves has impacted stress levels, educational experiences and trust among parents. She added there are other behind-the-scenes concerns regarding “basic systems” like human resources, accounting, health systems and student records.
“Those type of things that indicate to us that maybe there hasn’t been the strongest management in the past,” Mehesy said.
If the RE-1 Board of Education votes to revoke the CKMS charter, Haukeness said CKMS would have a 30-day window to appeal to the Colorado State Board of Education. That board would then hear arguments and have 60 days to issue a ruling.
‘What are we going to do?’For Lyndreth Wall, a Towaoc resident and parent of two students enrolled at CKMS, revoking the charter would be a nightmare.
He said the Montessori style provides a hands-on learning style in a one-on-one atmosphere — which has had a great impact on his kids. He said the past year has been nerve-racking, but, like many parents who spoke on Monday night, he’s not sure what his kids would do without CKMS.
“If we don’t keep it alive, what are we going to do as tribal kids in Towaoc?” Wall said.
At the charter school meeting, a parent alleged that RE-1 is just looking to take students from CKMS to boost the school district’s enrollment and budget. Another parent said their son does not function well in a traditional classroom, but thrives in a Montessori environment.
“I don’t know where else he’d go,” a parent said.
The CKMS board on Monday extended the position of interim head of school to Orris, ending the brief term of Alexia Hudson-McGrath as interim head of school.
Hudson-McGrath took an opportunity during the public comment period to share her thoughts on the charter school.
She said she has worked at the Children’s House, a Montessori preschool in Cortez, since 2009, was a founding committee member of CKMS and spent two years trying to get the charter school off the ground. But this year, she said her family decided to transition their daughter out of CKMS and into Montezuma-Cortez Middle School for academic reasons.
“After countless times of interface with the former head of school, I never saw academic performance, and the transition was precipitated by my daughter, who has been a Montessori student since she was 2.5 years old,” Hudson-McGrath said.
She suggested that the CKMS board has not been true to the school’s mission and vision statement.
“I will stand here to support you no matter what you decide, I just want to be sure that if you’re going to continue that you take this mission and vision to heart,” Hudson-McGrath said. “And if you don’t, then please change the mission and vision.”