The Montezuma-Cortez school board has decided to grant the Children’s Kiva Montessori School a few months to get on its feet before possibly losing its charter.
Kiva has not met the enrollment and facility conditions set by Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 in December, staff reported, and the RE-1 board was asked Tuesday to move to revoke the school’s charter or start negotiating to extend the deadline through May.
After some debate, the board decided to extend the deadline, crediting Kiva for hiring a new, experienced interim head of school. The board also said that a lengthy and costly litigation process that involved the Colorado Board of Education wouldn’t occur before May anyway.
“You have another timeline. It’s a second-chance kind of thing,” said board vice president Sheri Noyes. “Give them a little more time to make their move.”
No official action was taken Tuesday, but Superintendent Lori Haukeness said RE-1 will now start negotiating the new agreement with Kiva.
Carol Mehesy, director of school improvement and grants, presented the findings of the staff evaluation.
The district has worked with Kiva since the beginning of the school year, she said, as the charter faced mounting financial difficulties due to low enrollment, which impacts state funding. On top of the funding issue, asbestos discovered in fall at the school’s 601 N. Mildred Road location called for renovations at the permanent site.
Since then, students have been taking classes at the Crow Canyon Archaeology Center.
The district, Mehesy said, has sent Kiva notices of concern since September regarding the school’s financial health, student health and safety and how the state of the facilities would affect educational programming. Finally, on Dec. 13, RE-1 sent Kiva a notice of the school’s breach of contract, with an opportunity to cure the issue over the following two months.
Breach of contract conditionsTo prove it was again in compliance with its charter contract, Kiva was required to address four conditions: stabilization of enrollment, sustainability of enrollment, stability of facility and sustainability of facility.
Regarding enrollment stabilization, Kiva was required to demonstrate a loss of no more than 5 percent of enrolled students from the time the letter was sent.
The condition was not met, Mehesy said. The student enrollment count as of Dec. 12 was 77.5 full-time equivalent students, which fell to 66.76 FTE as of Feb. 13 – a 32 percent loss since October and a 14 percent drop since the breach letter was sent. FTE is determined by the number of students enrolled full-time. For example, a half-day kindergarten student counts as 0.5 FTE for state funding purposes.
The second condition, sustainability of enrollment, also was not met, Mehesy said. In order to prove enrollment sustainability, Kiva was supposed to provide RE-1 with signed statements of enrollment commitment for at least 98 FTE students for the 2019-20 school year.
As of the Feb. 12 deadline, Kiva had open enrollment requests for 68.38 FTE students. Furthermore, Mehesy said, when the charter school submitted a second revised “break even” budget, it based their figures on an enrollment of 83 FTE students.
“This intentional number brings them a potential budget deficit of around $125,000 for next year,” she said.
Kiva partially met the facility stability condition, Mehesy said. The school was supposed to submit a certificate of occupancy to RE-1 by Feb. 12 – an indication that the asbestos cleaning had concluded the previous week. But at this point, not even the Kiva board has a clear idea of when the building on North Mildred Road would be ready for student use, Mehesy said.
In addition to the asbestos issue, a frozen water pipe in the Mildred Road building caused a flood.
However, she added, Kiva was looking into alternatives. Kiva could use the Crow Canyon space through March and is working with the city of Cortez to move into two spots downtown for the rest of the school year.
The last condition, demonstrating the sustainability of the facility, was also partly met, according to Mehesy. The school needed to submit a revised lease with the terms for the next two years, detailing the lease’s financial impact under new terms of mortgage restructuring, along with a “proposed long-term facilities financial plan from the building corporation.”
Kiva did provide a revised lease, Mehesy said, but not the requested additional documents.
Overall student performance also was low, Mehesy said. On the plus side, she added, in December, Kiva hired interim Head of School Jon Orris, who has substantial charter school experience.
Board members could choose between two options, she said. They could extend the timeline for Kiva to meet the conditions, with the agreement that the school would close for the 2019-20 school year if conditions weren’t met by May, or the board could try to revoke Kiva’s charter. The revocation process could entail extended litigation since the Kiva board would have 30 days to file an appeal with the state board, which would then issue a ruling within 60 days.
Board is divided on decisionAs the board considered the evaluation presented on Tuesday, RE-1 board president Sherri Wright was the first to respond.
“We started working with Kiva in September, and we’re just now getting this,” Wright said, adding that the results were not promising and that Kiva has not proven its ability to meet the conditions by the end of the school year in May.
Board member Jack Schuenemeyer agreed.
“We’re not getting responses in a timely fashion. ... I think the kids are being hurt, and I have grave concerns over that,” he said.
Other directors, though, said they didn’t want to give up on the charter yet and pointed to the recent hiring of Orris as an indication of progress.
And board member Lance McDaniel struck a practical note when he noted that even if the board decided to revoke the Kiva charter, it would be months before the process was in motion and the action would result in legal fees.
“Nothing final is going to happen until May anyway,” McDaniel said. “And if it’s less expensive to give them until the end of May to meet the requirements, then that’s good enough.”
The board ultimately decided to extend the deadline. Haukeness said the district’s attorney would begin work on drawing up a contract.
“We just hope you succeed,” Wright told Kiva supporters in the audience.