History of Liberty Common School (Part Two)
Dr. Maureen Schaffer, Founding Parent
The huge demand for the educational program offered at Washington Core Knowledge School prompted the school’s founders to begin drafting an application for a Core Knowledge charter school under the newly passed Colorado Charter Schools Act. By the summer of 1995, unresolved issues about the permanence of Washington Core and the authority of the parent board over the academic program spurred a full-scale charter effort.
Meeting after work and on weekends, parents meticulously defined and documented the charter school’s mission, goals, curriculum, governance, budget, facility plan, employee relations, and more. On October 31, 1995, the Core Knowledge Charter School (CKCS) Partnership, the organization formed by founding parents for the purpose of establishing a new charter school, submitted its application to the PSD Board of Education.
Rather than proceed with negotiations, the PSD board requested more and more information, explanation, and detail. The CKCS board, led by parent Chairman Phil Christ, diligently responded to each request, but to no avail. On December 11, the PSD board voted to deny the charter application without ever having met to negotiate with the parents.
Undaunted, the CKCS board appealed the decision to the Colorado State Board of Education. In February, the State Board sided with the parents and instructed the PSD board to negotiate an agreement in good faith with the charter group. Weeks of meetings ensued.
It appeared the two sides were slowly coming together. However, in an eleventh-hour surprise, the PSD board suddenly voted to “approve” the charter with several major restrictions not previously discussed: The charter would be limited to two years, enrollment would be capped at 300 students, and the school would be limited to a k-6 program, thereby eliminating the school’s innovative junior-high program.
PSD politicians further directed the charter school to find space in a non-district building and execute the charter contract with PSD no later than June 1. The constraints made it virtually impossible to open the school.
Disappointed, the CKCS board filed a second appeal with the State Board of Education. In an apparent attempt to quash the charter school, PSD unleashed its attorney. A paper war erupted as the lawyer threw legal obstacles in the path of the charter school. The charter group managed to fend off the legal challenges and was finally granted a hearing before the State Board.
At the April 23 hearing, the final punch was landed when PSD announced it had filed suit against the State Board of Education and CKCS Board of Directors! Concerned the lawsuit could result in an injunction preventing the charter school from opening, the State Board recommended the charter group try to open a school with PSD’s restrictions.
Dozens of outraged parents criticized the legal shenanigans at the next PSD board meeting. PSD director Bob Bacon (who subsequently was elected a Colorado State Senator) denied the district had sued parents and accused charter supporters of promulgating a big lie. But PSD President Mike Liggett, an attorney, confirmed the lawsuit had indeed named five parents – Phil Christ, Randy Everett, Timothy Gilmore, Cheryl Olsen, and Maureen Schaffer – as defendants.
The clock was ticking down to the June 1st deadline. Charter parent Mr. Peter Kast, a commercial realtor, conducted yet another survey of potential properties to accommodate the PSD-imposed school configuration. A near match was identified. However, two adjustments to the restrictions would be necessary:
- Increase the charter length to five years to amortize building improvements.
- Increase the enrollment cap to 364 students to meet the annual lease and maintenance obligations.
The charter group entreated PSD to consider adjusting the restrictions. The PSD board refused to consider the request. “The Board of Education will not take any further action,” came the response in a May 3rd letter to the CKCS board.
The June 1 contract deadline expired, and PSD dropped its lawsuit against the parents. The clock had run out. There would be no charter school in 1996.
 Vaughan, Kevin. “Parents assail board over charter school.” The Fort Collins Coloradoan, May 14, 1996.