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Decision was based on negative impact to school district's academic performance and graduation rate



Photo Credit: KEVIN SPERL - Insight Charter School Director Dennis Kostelecky addesses the Crook County School Board during the contract renewal hearing.

At a special meeting Wednesday evening the Crook County School Board decided by a vote of four to one not to renew the district's contract with the Insight Charter School of Oregon.

School Board Chair Doug Smith, the only dissenting vote, said that he voted in favor of the charter's inaugural contract three years ago because he thought it important to provide students a choice.

“Looking back, I still have the same belief,” he said. “But, my concern is what Insight has become from a graduation and achievement rate perspective.”

Only days before, the state had issued its latest graduation report showing that Insight had continued to fare badly, graduating only 16 percent of its eligible students.

Over the past few weeks, district and school officials had expressed serious concern about the impact Insight was having on the district's academic performance data.

So much so that at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting the district's attorney Shawn Swisher said that the poor outcomes of the charter school “could have a deleterious impact on attracting new businesses or residents to Crook County.”

Swisher addressed each of the district's concerns that had earlier been outlined in a letter from the district to Insight.

Swisher told the board that Insight's poor student state testing participation, its fiscal instability, and poor attendance and enrollment tracking all provided the district “sufficient findings to support a non-renewal of the charter contract.”

The current state model for sponsorship of charter schools requires that the sponsoring district be held accountable for its entire student body, regardless of their residence.

At last night's meeting, Special Education Director Mona Boyd wanted to be sure the board appreciated the workload that had been placed on her staff due to Insight's students.

“We have 96 special education students from Insight alone,” she said. “We have reached critical mass in dealing with these numbers and will be asking for $150,000 in additional staff and resources to continue to meet this need.”

Boyd added that if the charter were to meet its expectations of enrolling 1,000 students, she would need staff that would cost the district another $430,000.

Responding to questions from the board, the district's Director of Business & Finance, Anna Logan, explained that the financial impact to the district from the sponsorship of Insight was a $400,000 net gain to the budget.

“I don't want to send the message that this should be the top priority in your decision, it is not a critical amount of money,” she said. “This is simply what it would do to our budget.”

Superintendent Duane Yecha agreed that Insight is considered as an “income source to the district,” and that on-line class offerings are becoming more important.

But, he added his concerns to those voiced by others concerning Insight's poor performance.

“The data has been difficult for us to live with,” he admitted. “And serving special education students has been a challenge.”

Middle School teacher Linda Pepper came to the meeting to voice her concern about the quality and rigor of courses offered by Insight.

“I have found that their classes are taught to the middle school level and I am concerned that Crook County is putting their stamp of approval on them,” she said. “But, the bigger concern for me is if we are using district resources in the best way by sponsoring Insight.”

Responding to the board's discussion about the income generated to the district by their sponsorship, Pepper asked them to look at the issue from a different perspective.

“Kids do need choices and on-line is out there, but I'm not sure we can afford to host those choices,” she said. “To me, the question is if our district can afford to keep Insight.”

Stacy Smith, director of curriculum and instruction, told the board that he, as with the rest of the district, wants the very best for Crook County students.

“What tips me toward not renewing has to do with the student data,” he said. “It is the challenge of the distance between Insight's students and their teachers that is at the heart of the poor performance.”

Stacy Smith told the board that if the contract were renewed, the district would be faced with another three years of poor performance data from Insight.

“Their performance goes against what we want to be,” he added. “We want to be outstanding and have data to recognize that. I think we will suffer for every year with Insight and my recommendation is to not renew.”

Board member Patty Norris said that she did not feel obligated that the district continue to provide an on-line choice to students from around the state.

“Our decision to not renew would not remove that option for students,” she said. “Insight's performance concerns me. We may receive $400,000, but we are being told we will need to spend $150,000 right away.”

Board member Gwen Carr asked CCHS Principal Michelle Jonas what the impact would be on the school if the contract were not renewed.

“We have the FTE's (available staff) within our building to take Insight's classes offered to our (local) students back into our classrooms,” Jonas assured her.

After further discussion, Norris offered a motion to not renew the contract and was seconded by Walt Wagner.

Norris, Wagner, Carr and Scott Cooper voted in favor of the motion.