PLEASANT VIEW — Capstone Classical Academy, a charter school in its second year of operation, has just under a month to prepare for a public hearing, where school leadership will make the case that the school should remain open.
Capstone combines a classical education with a Finnish education model, said Dr. Susan Goers, director of the school.
The reason the school is facing potential closure is its financial viability, which is caused, ultimately, by low enrollment numbers, according to several members of the Utah State Charter School Board (SCSB) at their Oct. 10 board meeting.
“We produced a bunch of information, things that (SCSB staff) wanted,” Goers said, describing information that had been shared with SCSB staff since the October meeting.
“They wanted to see an increase in enrollment and an increase in funding,” Goers continued. “We showed them both, but they don’t think that it’s enough, so we’re going to go to the hearing.”
The public hearing will be held at 8 a.m. Monday, Dec. 9, according to Goers and Jennifer Lambert, executive director at SCSB.
A decision on Capstone’s future will not be made until the SCSB’s regular December board meeting, which will take place later the same week on Thursday, Dec. 12.
At that meeting, the board could vote to close the school as early as the end of the semester, in early January, Lambert said. This timing is the board’s current proposal.
Depending on the school’s finances at the time of the hearing, it’s also possible the school could remain open through the end of the year, though its future would still be uncertain, Lambert said.
In that case, the SCSB would likely reconsider closure at a later time this school year, though the board has not discussed timing for that scenario.
Capstone can also appeal the SCSB’s decision to the Utah State Board of Education, Lambert said, a process that could take months.
Capstone is projected to have an almost $450,000 deficit by the end of the fiscal year and could run out of money midway through the year, according to a presentation by SCSB staff on Oct. 10.
Goers said the school had raised $100,000 since Oct. 10, and an anonymous donor has agreed to match up to $100,000 in donations before January, which Goers is confident the school can raise due to past fundraising success.
If Capstone is able to receive the full matching amount, they will have raised $300,000 by January, she said.
The school is also waiting to hear back on several grant applications and has added four to five students to its enrollment since Oct. 10.
A key issue is that the school would not need such extensive fundraising if it was at its break-even enrollment of 260 students, but enrollment is difficult to boost significantly in the middle of the year.
There were 177 students enrolled at Capstone on Oct. 10.
The question will be if the SCSB is willing to grant Capstone a reprieve on Dec. 9, allowing the school to rely on fundraising while working to raise its enrollment — an arrangement that SCSB members expressed concern about at their meeting on Oct. 10.
The school was notified of concerns about its financial viability over the summer in a formal document signed by Lambert called a Notice of Concern, which is part of the SCSB’s oversight model.
At the state charter board’s meeting on Oct. 10, the SCSB voted to propose termination of the school and to follow steps outlined in statute that govern the termination process.
The school was given 14 days to request a hearing, which school leadership did through the school’s lawyers.
Though Capstone had received a Notice of Concern, Goers said school leadership felt caught off guard by the proposal of termination at the SCSB’s Oct. 10 meeting.
The school was working to address the issues described in the Notice of Concern, Goers said, but they didn’t know a proposal to terminate the school was imminent.
She also says that the SCSB has not followed the steps in its own oversight model, which includes two steps — a warning and probation — before the SCSB considers a proposal of termination.
In the SCSB’s oversight model document, the steps of the oversight process are depicted as a pyramid. The steps move from green at the base, to yellow, orange and red (closure) at the top.
Lambert said that the steps in the oversight model are not necessarily sequential.
“There is nothing in statute or administrative rule that even talks about our process,” Lambert said. “ ... There’s nothing that says that you have to have warning or probation — it doesn’t detail out those steps. Those steps are just things that we use internally, and they were never designed that they had to be sequential.”
The SCSB also voted to propose termination for another charter school, St. George Academy (SGA), at the Oct. 10 meeting.
Since then, the school has withdrawn its request for a hearing, Lambert said. Neither SCSB staff nor the school found a hearing necessary.
A board decision on the SGA’s potential closure will be made at the SCSB’s regularly scheduled meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 14.