Aspen Community School scores major grant at last |

Aspen Community School scores major grant at last

ASPEN – The Aspen Community School has won its longstanding battle to receive $4.2 million in state funding to replace its Woody Creek campus.

“I feel like we just moved a mountain,” said Skye Skinner, director of Compass, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Aspen Community School, after a meeting Tuesday with state education officials in Denver, where she learned of the decision. “I am so excited and encouraged. We’ve been working toward this for so long. … And I was just so very heartened by the strength of the state board’s collective opinion.”

The local charter school has applied three times to receive funds through Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, program. It was denied twice but learned in July that its grant request was approved – with a catch.

Under a recently approved Senate bill, the match the school could receive changed, meaning the school was going to have to pay 81 percent of its $9.1 million grant request. School officials applied for a waiver to remain at the 54 percent match level at the time, but the application was denied. So instead of having to raise $4.9 million, the school found itself in the position of having to raise $8 million.

“It essentially made the grant unattainable,” Skinner said. “To work for so many years and then get the award only to have it virtually negated, … it was beyond the pale.”

Thus, the school submitted a letter of appeal to the BEST board in July. The board would not hear the appeal, however, leaving the school with no choice but to appeal to the Colorado Board of Education.

“I assume the BEST board was concerned about setting precedents and such,” Skinner said, equating the move to appealing to the Supreme Court. “But at that point I felt like we had no alternative to going to the state board. I had to advocate for the school; we couldn’t let it rest there.”

The state board heard the appeal – and reviewed a 72-page packet of materials that included letters of support from the Aspen School District, the Colorado League of Charter Schools and other state officials – on Aug. 8.

Skinner said the board “was incredibly sympathetic to our cause.” But rather than changing the funding situation themselves, members of the Colorado Board of Education directed the BEST board to reconvene and to reconsider its decision not to grant the requested waiver.

“They were really firm, and in a unanimous vote they told BEST that they were not going to approve any of the other large grants until they held a meeting to revisit our petition,” Skinner said.

That meeting took place Tuesday in Denver, with the BEST board voting 4-2 in the charter school’s favor.

According to Skinner, the decision to fund the school at the 54 percent level did not affect any other school’s funding. All told, BEST grants awarded in July amounted to$184 million and included major construction and renovation projects in 18 districts and charter schools across the state, including Ross Montessori in Carbondale. Ross won both a grant and a waiver to the tune of $11 million, which will be used to purchase land and build a new LEED-certified school building.

For both local schools, the challenge now lies in raising the required match.

“The work is certainly not over for us, but receiving the $4.2 million takes us to a different stage in this effort,” said Skinner, adding that it was her understanding that the school would have until November to raise its $4.9 million match. “But given what we just accomplished, I am really confident. I hope people will be inspired by the work we’ve done to support our efforts.”

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