Struggling charter school will have to ramp up enrollment or close, APS school board says

AURORA | School board members for Aurora Public Schools approved a recommendation Tuesday night forcing a struggling charter school to more than double its enrollment by June or close less than a year after opening.

Aurora Community School, a beleaguered Aurora charter school, agreed last week to attempt to buck up enrollment from about 100 students.

Earlier this month, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn recommended that Aurora Community School be shut down at the end of the school year because of declining enrollment — unless the school rapidly enrolls students.

On Tuesday night, APS school board members agreed and voted 5-1 to impose the restrictions, with board President Marques Ivey voting against the proposal and member Kevin Cox absent.

The enrollment target is one the district said the school is unlikely to meet, but ACS officials verbally committed and supported the plan last week.

The school’s issues stem from low enrollment and resulting financial shortfalls.

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, leading to a depleted budget, the district says.

ACS focuses on students who come from often struggling families and offers a wide variety of social-service-like services in an effort to bolster academic achievement.

As for the 240-student target, 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.”

School board members have agreed with the recommendation to require the school to ramp up enrollment before the year’s end.

“This is a model that we are all excited about, that we all want to see work, but that has to be implemented in a sustainable way,” outgoing board member Monica Colbert said of the school last week.

The agreement between ACS and APS includes a clause barring the charter school from appealing the decision to the state board of education.

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. Since the school also enrolled less than half the students originally planned for, it leaves educators without the much-needed per-pupil revenue that typically runs schools.

ACS officials acknowledged budgeting mistakes last week but blamed the shortfalls on permitting and construction issues for their permanent location. The school was, at one point, operating out of a Crowne Plaza convention space and lost a few students when the school moved to a temporary space it now inhabits. That’s in a church near East Sixth Avenue and Chambers Road.