ENGLEWOOD - When Principal Jay Cerny was asked by Cherry Creek School District leaders to support the passage of a $25 million mill levy last fall, he says he thought his school would receive more funding if successful. The measure passed. The money didn't come.
"I personally feel that I was misled," said Cerny, principal of Cherry Creek Academy in Englewood. "I believe that my parents believe they were misled, as well."
Over the years, the Cherry Creek School District successfully got voters to approve several property tax increases for about $85 million in extra funding.
Cerny believes that as a charter school in the district for the last 18 years, Cherry Creek Academy deserves its fair share of the money that is divided between the 60 other schools in the district which equals around $800,000 per year.
"It turns out to be about $1,680 per student," said Cerny. "So, it's a significant amount of money. It would represent approximately 24 percent of our total operating budget."
Despite being rated as one of the top kindergarten-through-8th grade programs in the state of Colorado, Cerny says his charter school is facing serious budget issues and he needs to hire more aides and specialists to deal with his growing class sizes.
"This is the only school that doesn't get this money," said Cerny. "That is unfair. It is unequal and it is a case of the hen guarding the hen house."
As frustrating as it might be for Cerny and his charter school, the district has no legal obligation to share any of the mill levy override money with Cherry Creek Academy.
"We have a 30 year contract with the charter. They'd never asked for that," said Tustin Amole, director of communications for the Cherry Creek School District.
Amole says the charter school will receive mill levy override money in the same fashion as other traditional schools in the district.
"Instead of saying that we're gonna give each school this much money per student, we fund those things that the voters approved the funding to be used for," said Amole.
The 2012 mill levy override is dedicated to addressing class sizes, technology needs, and staff development. Amole says Cherry Creek Academy is asking for way more than that.
"They're asking for $800,000 a year for every previous election. Not just this one, but every previous election back to the year after they were chartered," said Amole. "So, they're asking for money that no longer exists."
Cerny says he's asking for money that is rightfully theirs.
"That's all we're asking for here. We're just asking for fairness and equity," said Cerny. "I guess what the district is saying is that money does not follow children."
This issue spans beyond the Cherry Creek School District.
"Funding between charter schools and school districts is a fairly common point of contention," said Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. "For a district not to share that equally with their charters is tough to swallow."
Griffin says this example shows that there is a need for state legislation to clarify how mill levy override money should be divided.
"We don't see common practice of per pupil sharing at a level that we think would be appropriate," said Griffin. "At some point, the state has to take notice of this."
The Cherry Creek School District believes it is acting in accordance to the law. Amole says the amount of money Cherry Creek Academy will receive is still under negotiations.
She says they have another meeting scheduled with the charter school to discuss the matter within the next few weeks.
"We've worked very well with them," said Amole. "We've always had a very good relationship."
Cerny says he is mounting a campaign with parents and school staff to lobby the school board to give Cherry Creek Academy its fair share of the money. They plan to speak at the next school board meeting on March 11th.
"We're not asking for one penny more," said Cerny. "But, we really don't want to take one penny less."
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