Charter School Expands Despite State Budget Crisis

Skyview Academy Gets Creative To Add Middle School, High School

When classes resumed this summer at Skyview Academy in Highlands Ranch, nearly 200 new students were enrolled at the rapidly expanding charter school. Skyview Academy, which opened its doors last year for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, is planning for similar growth over the next five years.

"We are adding sixth grade at middle school and ninth grade for high school, and we'll roll those grades up," said Lorrie Grove, a member of the school's board of directors.

This growth means Skyview Academy needs to build another 80,000 square feet of classrooms and facilities inside the former big-box store where it is housed. The construction will be completed in phases.

The unique aspect of the school's growth is that it's occurring at a time when state funding for schools is declining. In Douglas County, per pupil funding has decreased $747 in the past two years. Districtwide, the loss of annual state funding totals $25.2 million compared with 2009.

"Because we are continuing to grow and add students, our total school budget is actually growing," said Merlin Holmes, the school's executive director.

In other words, more students equals more money for teachers, curriculum and construction. The fact that it's a charter school also provides an advantage.

"We are able to control the size of our administration and make sure we are putting a lot of money in the classrooms rather than on administrative expenses," Holmes said. "One of the other things we don't offer is transportation, so our parents bring their kids to school."

Skyview Academy also minimizes operating expenses through the use of skylights and solar energy, which helps it save 20-30 percent of its energy costs.

The school also requires parents to volunteer a minimum of 40 hours per school year.

"It really saves us a lot of money because they are solid man hours," Grove said. "I believe last year we logged over 14,000 hours from our families."

However, the school's greatest advantage to thriving amidst statewide budget cuts may simply be timing.

"We started in a year with less funding than most [schools] were used to getting, so we started from that low number and have been able to make it work," Holmes said.

The addition of 200 students over each of the next five years is an aggressive, but planned expansion. The school's founders anticipated this type of growth after opening another charter school, NorthStar Academy, in Parker.

Skyview Academy has an enrollment waiting list of nearly 1,000 students.

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