Jeffco parents are trying to keep a school in their community. They need half a million dollars.

A brick school building with a flagpole in front.
Coal Creek is one of two Jeffco Public Schools the school board voted to close this year. (Image courtesy of Jeffco Public Schools)

Writing grant requests, requesting donations from local businesses, and even starting a GoFundMe page.

That’s how some Jeffco parents are scrambling to raise more than half a million dollars to help open a charter school in a remote mountain canyon after Jeffco Public Schools announced it would close the K-8 school in Coal Creek Canyon.

The Jeffco school board voted this fall to close Coal Creek Canyon K-8 citing low enrollment and an unsustainable cost. But Jefferson Academy, the charter network that was supposed to take over the building, is now facing the same issues and may not be able to open a school there after all.

Unlike when the district closed about 20 other schools in the past couple of years and reassigned students to nearby schools, district leaders acknowledged that closing Coal Creek Canyon K-8, located near the border with the Boulder district, would be different because of the school’s remote location. So the district opened a process offering the building to a charter that might be better prepared to run such a small school.

Jefferson Academy, an existing charter school network in Jeffco, was approved to open a prekindergarten through eighth grade school in the Coal Creek Canyon building.

But now that the school may not open after all, parents are unsure of the options their children will have this fall.

Parent Ashley Allen said that the next closest district school, Three Creeks K-8, is about a 19-minute drive away in good weather.

Allen’s son has diabetes and she often has been called to come to school because her son’s blood sugar drops or his insulin pump is failing.

In those worst-case scenarios, the drive “can make for a very nervous parent,” she said.

Tim Matlick, executive director of Jefferson Academy, said the charter school had been counting on having at least 87 students, and an additional 20 for its homeschool program. When submitting the charter application, Jefferson Academy had received 95 interest forms for potential students.

So far, the school has just 60 enrollments, and seven homeschool students signed up.

Parents from the canyon went to the charter school’s board meeting last week and asked for more time to raise the money themselves.

The charter school board gave them just until its next meeting, March 12, to help raise the $550,000. Without the funds, the charter board will decide whether to scrap the plans to open.

The charter leaders are also trying to raise money. Matlick said they now have preliminary approval for a startup grant from the state department of education for about $107,000. They’re also looking at a possible grant of about $75,000 from the Denver-based Daniels Fund.

When the charter was approved by the Jeffco school board, one condition was that the Jefferson Academy network set aside $250,000 to help support the new charter in the canyon.

Matlick said there is discussion about whether that money should be used to close the $550,000 funding gap or if it should be held in reserves for other potential problems once the charter opens.

Matlick said the district has been generous. The agreement to lease the building would only cost the charter $196,000 per year, to cover district-provided maintenance including custodial staff, snow removal, and trash pickups.

All the furniture and technology in the building would be donated to the charter.

But, he said, the community’s help is going to be critical.

“We’ve got a big group working to make this happen,” said Allen, whose son is a second grader at Coal Creek Canyon K-8. She started the GoFundMe page, and set it up so that money will be refunded to donors if the school doesn’t open.

As of Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe page had just over $5,000. “Our 4 children all went to this school. It is a vital part of the Coal Creek community. Please keep this school available to the community for their children,” one donor wrote.

If grants and donations can help in the first year or two, Allen said, parents and charter leaders believe that young children in the canyon community will help enrollment grow in future years to make the school sustainable.

Allen said parents are working on proposals to ask the local Coal Creek Canyon businesses including a coffee shop, the local garage, and some restaurants to pitch in. They also plan to ask bigger businesses like Denver Water, which has trucks passing through the canyon regularly.

Still, she is worried. Three Creeks is such a large school that it would be a big change for her son. If there is no school in the canyon, Allen said, she and her husband are considering moving.

“I will say the stress feels like it’s been nonstop for two years,” Allen said.

In a letter Jefferson Academy sent to families, charter leaders said that if they do not open the school, Jeffco district leaders will meet with families the day after the charter’s board meeting to speak “about their plans for next year and what one-year programming options could be possible.”

Before getting a charter school approved to open, the district had contingency plans to keep the elementary portion of the school open for one additional year. Middle school students would have either gone to Three Creeks, or chosen remote learning facilitated within the Coal Creek building.

Jeffco district leaders declined to speak about alternative plans. Lisa Relou, chief of staff for the district, said “we are doing everything we can to support” the charter in opening.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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