APS superintendent recommends new charter school be shuttered, barring more enrollment

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AURORA | Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn is recommending that a new-and-beleaguered charter school be shut down at the end of the school year because of declining enrollment — unless the school rapidly enrolls students.

It’s a target the district says the school is unlikely to meet.

Munn’s staff is expected to tell APS school board members Tuesday night that Aurora Community School is in a perilous financial situation and will have to close at the end of the school year unless it can more than double enrollment, according to district documents.

ACS enrolled 104 students as of the Oct. 2 statewide student count. That’s less than half of its anticipated student enrollment of about 265 students spelled out in the school’s contract and the later-reduced target of 133 students.

Munn is recommending that the school board revoke ACS’ charter at the end of the school year unless it can enroll 240 students for the next year and stabilize its budget.

But the district said the “ACS enrollment history indicates it is very unlikely they will be able to make that enrollment figure and as such ACS is not financially viable.”

Christine Levy, Board Chair of ACS’ Board of Directors, said the school could meet the enrollment targets.

“We’d like to thank Aurora Public Schools for its decision that is clearly in the best interest of our students and our community,” she said. “We recently submitted a plan that aligns with the enrollment and facilities requirements that APS identified, and we look forward to delivering on that plan.”

Levy told The Sentinel last month that the low-enrollment is due to ACS operating in a temporary space until its permanent space is ready this month. She did not say specifically why she believed moving into a permanent space would spur enrollment in the school.

But according to a district document, the ACS “has failed to provide a budget based on realistic revenue and expenditure assumptions which enables ACS’s mission to be realized while remaining financially solvent due to diminishing enrollment.”

The financial instability stems in part from low enrollment.

According to the district, ACS is heavily reliant on private grants and donations but spends much more funding per-student compared with other district-authorized charter schools. But the school also enrolled less than half the students originally planned for, leaving educators without the much-needed per-pupil revenue that typically runs schools.

The school also budgeted for federal funding it did not receive, the district said.

Munn’s recommendation to close the school is a twist for ACS, which opened in August to much excitement. School leaders touted a community-centric model staffed with social workers, therapists, food pantries and other resources for students and their families, administrators told the Sentinel last year. Organizers were excited to deliver a small-school environment focused on individual families, they said.

School board members agreed with the concept, and the board approved a contract with the school last year. But despite the buzz around the school model, ACS could not meet even slashed enrollment projections that are a bedrock of school budgeting.

The day after this year’s October 2 head count, APS told school leaders they had determined the school to be “in breach of its charter contract with regard to financial viability based on the school’s under-enrollment.

The budget issues may force ACS to lay off at least more more teacher, according to the district. It’s unclear how many staff may have been let go. Levy has not responded to specific inquiries from The Sentinel.

If its contract remains intact, ACS would eventually become a K-8 school. Currently, it only has grades kindergarten, 1, 2 and 6. APS says the school’s private funding efforts will keep it afloat through the school year, but that the budget situation is too tenuous for long-term operation.