New charter school set to open, leaving some schools with enrollment funding concerns

The Olde School in Fruitland is currently under construction before turning into the Treasure Valley Classical Academy. The renovation is scheduled to end on Aug. 8.

The final touches are being put on Fruitland’s Olde School, as the Treasure Valley Classical Academy is ready to open its doors for the 2019-2020 school year. The school will house kindergarten through sixth grade this year.

According to TVCA Principal Stephen Lambert, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission allowed the first-year school to enroll up to 324 students (54 students per grade for kindergarten through fourth grade, 27 students per grade in fifth and sixth grades).

The lottery system for the 2019-2020 enrollment took place in early April and Lambert said the school has received initial enrollment applications for 532 students.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lambert said TVCA currently has 313 verified students with five more in the process of completing the enrollment process. Lambert said every grade is full except for third grade and there are 94 students on the waitlist.

The TVCA will expand by one grade per year until it reaches the full kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment. At full enrollment Lambert estimates that TVCA will have 702 total students.

To compare to the other schools in Payette County, at the end of the last school year Fruitland School District had 1,759 students, Payette School District had about 1,530 students and New Plymouth School District had about 1,000 students (according to school district representatives).

In Ontario, Four Rivers Community School has 344 students enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year.

At the TVCA Board of Trustees’ April meeting, there were eight community members who spoke to encourage the TVCA to add another class to the fifth and sixth grades to allow more students to enroll.

According to Lambert, TVCA submitted the matter of increasing the size of the fifth and sixth grades to the PCSC and the request was denied. Lambert said the PCSC rarely approves changes in the first year of a charter school. He added that the board will consider requesting permission to expand the leading grades after the first school year.

Lambert said the renovation of the Fruitland Olde School, which is costing about $3.2 million in total, should be “substantially complete” on Aug. 8.

The Treasure Valley Classical Academy’s website says the school will begin implementing formal athletics programs starting in the 2020-2021 school year with the start of the seventh grade class.

“Treasure Valley Classical Academy recognizes that athletic teams enhance the atmosphere of the student body, providing students, parents, and faculty with the opportunity to express school spirit and build community,” the site states. “Athletic competition inspires and elevates the minds and characters of those who compete and those who watch. Therefore, all members of the TVCA family can support the athletic program in a variety of ways, including coaching, transportation, concession help, and attending events. A successful program is a demonstration of the entire school working together.”

Currently there are no plans for clubs and other extracurricular activities, but the website states that those will be implemented based on student interest.

Affecting neighboring areas

The introduction of the TVCA to Payette County throws a couple of wrenches into the operation of the local school districts.

According to Payette School District Superintendent Robin Gilbert, local schools have already felt the impact of TVCA with having to hire new teachers after some left to go to TVCA.

“Hiring is one part of it and the funding is the other,” she said.

All school funding is based on average daily attendance, and Gilbert said Payette School District is bracing for a loss of 124 students to go to TVCA. That loss of students would lead to a loss of five funding units, Gilbert said.

A funding unit is an amount of money the state gives to a school that is largely based on average daily attendance. That monetary amount changes depending on grade level and expected classroom size.

“We’re trying to prepare financially,” Gilbert said. “But really there’s no way to know until we see the students in the seats.”

Gilbert also pointed out that the loss of income could affect Payette School District’s ability to work with all of the student population.

“We have a high amount of low-income students in the district. We have a lot of [English language learner] students and special education students,” Gilbert said. “And those funding units will also be reduced. And, most likely, those student populations will not be reduced. At least that’s what the trends are. Those students tend to stay in their school district.”

Gilbert added that the Payette School District had an easy time replacing the teachers that left in the spring, thanks to a strong hiring pool that applied.

“We were blessed to have a great candidate pool in the spring to replace those that left,” Gilbert said.

Nik Streng is a news reporter at The Argus Observer and Independent-Enterprise. He can be reached at (541) 823-4806 or by emailing niklass@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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