Charter group claims Littleton Public Schools unfairly withholds funds

Organization challenges authority, as district says some students require different funding amounts

Posted 12/19/19

The Colorado League of Charter Schools is seeking to revoke Littleton Public Schools' exclusive authority over its two charter schools, alleging LPS has failed to equitably distribute funds between …

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Charter group claims Littleton Public Schools unfairly withholds funds

Organization challenges authority, as district says some students require different funding amounts

Posted

The Colorado League of Charter Schools is seeking to revoke Littleton Public Schools' exclusive authority over its two charter schools, alleging LPS has failed to equitably distribute funds between its public schools and Littleton Academy and Littleton Preparatory Charter School.

In a 300-page brief filed with the Colorado State Board of Education, the CLCS alleges that LPS has shortchanged the two schools by more than $600,000 per year by not equitably divvying up its mill levy funds, and has not allocated enough of the take from a $300 million bond to the charters.

LPS superintendent Brian Ewert called the charges “provocative and inflammatory,” saying the district has honored its contract with the schools and plans to set the record straight.

Dan Schaller, the vice president of state and local policy for the CLCS, said the group “did not take this action lightly.”

“Charter schools are part of the public school community, and we feel they need to be treated as such,” Schaller said.

If the state board of education revokes Littleton's exclusive chartering authority, the district would no longer be the sole authority capable of overseeing Littleton Prep and Littleton Academy, Schaller said, and the two schools would gain the right to seek authorization through the state Charter School Institute.

However, such a move would likely result in a drop in funding for Littleton's charter schools, and the schools are unlikely to make the switch, Schaller said.

“When a district has a pattern of not treating students equitably, this mechanism is the recourse,” Schaller said. “If Littleton wants to retain that exclusive authority, they need to remedy this issue.”

Schaller said the CLCS has not filed similar briefs against any other district in the state. The state board has 60 days to hold the hearing, he said.

The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education squared off against its charter schools in 2018, enacting a plan to share a portion of mill levy override funds with the schools that charter parents and administrators called unfair.

The plan, developed in response to state law HB 1375, capped the share of the district's override funds to be distributed at 45%, meaning the charters received a little under $1 million a year, instead of $1.6 million a year if 95% of the funds were split equally as is typically called for by the law.

District officials, however, cited a clause in the law that said districts can withhold a portion of override funds earmarked for underserved populations, saying the district is tasked with supporting expensive programs, like special education and busing, that charters don't face.

“Equality says I have a stack of money and I'm going to deal it out evenly until it's gone,” Littleton School Board member Jim Stephens said in June 2018. “Equity says I've got kids with different needs. I'm not going to spend the same on each kid.”

Beyond special needs students, the charter schools have far fewer students on individualized education plans or learning English as a second language, Stephens said. Stephens has since left the board.

The CLCS brief also alleges LPS unfairly split up money from a 2018 bond that authorized the borrowing of $298 million for a variety of large-scale infrastructure projects around the district, including several school rebuilds.

“Though charter schools serve 7% of Littleton's student population, the district only allocated 2% of the funds to help the charter schools with their facilities needs.”

Enrollment at the two charter schools was about 1,000 in September 2019, according to district data, part of a total of roughly 14,700 students district-wide.

In an email statement, Ewert said he was “surprised and disappointed that the League of Charter Schools would make such misleading claims, purportedly on behalf of our charter schools.”

“Over the years, we've been successful honoring the Board of Education's contract with each charter school and have had open communications and negotiations with the leaders of both charter schools,” the statement reads in part. All parties involved always have participated in good faith … We intend to let our successes with charter schools tell the story of how every student in LPS is treated fairly.”

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