The Durango School District 9-R board voted to renew The Juniper School’s charter Wednesday after some members expressed concerns last week about the school’s finances and its plan to buy a building in Bodo Industrial Park.
The board voted 3 to 1 to extend the kindergarten through fifth grade school charter for three years. The extension allows the school to pursue a loan to buy a building formerly belonging to Century Link in Bodo at 225 Sawyer Drive. The school needs a new building because it cannot grow in its space above Big Picture High School on 12th Street.
Board member Nancy Stubbs opposed the renewal, saying she had concerns about the school’s finances. She said last week she was concerned the purchase of a building for the school might be rushed and wanted to explore other less-costly solutions, such as moving The Juniper School into another district building temporarily. In the long term, The Juniper School could be included in the district’s master facilities plan, she said.
Stubbs said she wanted the school to focus on developing academics and positive culture.
“I think the distraction is facilities, and it’s been that way the whole time,” she said.
Juniper Head of School Katie McCullough said the school is pleased with the vote.
“We are very excited about their decision to continue collaborating and supporting The Juniper School,” she said.
Now that 9-R has extended the school’s charter, the district and the school will negotiate a contract that will set academic and financial benchmarks, among other standards, for the school to meet over the next three years, McCullough said. She expects the new contract will make the school’s next charter renewal process easier.
“We will have a much more collaborative process, which will make it more streamlined,” she said.
Before the vote, other board members expressed concerns similar to those expressed by Stubbs about The Juniper School’s recent financial decisions.
The school leased two office buildings in the Tech Center earlier this year, but remodeling them proved cost-prohibitive.
So now the school intends to buy the building on Sawyer Drive and renovate it before opening for classes in August. The 4-acre property has space for the school to add a playground and additional buildings to accommodate students, according to the site plan.
In 9-R’s recommendation for Juniper’s charter renewal, it says Juniper is seeking new tenants to take over the lease of the Tech Center buildings. But the district is encouraging the school to seek a formal withdrawal agreement from the lease before the end of the contract phase of the charter.
Board member Andrea Parmenter was among those who expressed concern about the school’s decision to lease the Tech Center buildings and previous poor financial planning that she observed as a member of the District Accountability Advisory Committee.
“I am seeing a pattern of behavior,” she said.
Board member Kristin Smith said Juniper’s planning is improving, and the board had engaged the right professionals to evaluate the property.
“I want to be able to trust the board,” she said.
Board President Shere Byrd said the school showed it can afford to lease the Tech Center buildings and buy the new building.
“I feel better about their board than I have at any point in time,” she said.
At a meeting last week, Juniper School parents expressed support for the school’s model, particularly how staff members have helped students grow socially.
“My kids have been able to cope with disappointment and with stress,” said parent Colin Roy-Ehri. “They are both kinder and more conscientious kids since they have been at Juniper,” he said.
Jessica Tillery, a 9-R employee, said she sent her two kids to the school because of the excitement surrounding it, and she appreciates how staff members work with her kids, who have the “most different” personalities.
“I just love how Juniper is able to engage my two children,” she said.