APS grants unanimous, tentative re-approval of Vanguard charter school in Aurora

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AURORA | Aurora Public Schools board members voted Tuesday night to re-approve a charter school for two years with conditions after the district raised concerns of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest among school leadership.

APS school board members voted unanimously to re-approve Vanguard Classical Academy, with member Kyla Armstrong-Romero absent.

Board member Dan Jorgensen said he voted to keep the school open largely because of Vanguard’s academic success, but he added that his support for the school would end if its leadership is unable to meet 10 conditions attached to the approval.

With the vote, the board affirmed an earlier recommendation from Superintendent Rico Munn to keep the school open. Vanguard now has to meet a host of conditions or risk a swift termination of their charter agreement with APS in the months to come, including removing school board members scrutinized by the district for potential conflicts of interest with a parent organization that has deep ties to the school.

Vanguard Board of Directors member Robert Fulton said the school is excited to continue working in APS and will meet the conditions imposed by the school board.

Vanguard, a two-campus program serving 1,130 students, was authorized to operate in APS only until the end of the year. Last year, APS conducted a review of the school and imposed conditions about internal financial reporting – some of which were not met.

Regardless, many parents and staff testified in the last month supporting the school, which outpaces the rest of APS in some test score areas despite educating a student population with a higher rate of poverty.

Richard Edmond, whose granddaughter attends Vanguard, told the school board before their vote that his family once planned to move out of his north Aurora neighborhood because of low-rated schools public schools, but stayed because of Vanguard’s quality of education.

“I know if that this charter is removed, we’re going to move,” he said of his family. “This school provides opportunities that these other schools just don’t have.”

Dozens of parents, staff and students attending the meeting applauded when the board voted to keep the school open.

Those included Aaron Bare and his son, Jericho, who is a ninth-grade student at Vanguard.

Jericho beamed  and said he was excited to continue at Vanguard “as long as physically possible”, and hopes to become an astrophysicist someday.

His father, Aaron, said he and other parents will be watching Vanguard’s board to make sure they meet APS’ ten conditions to keep the school open.

Last month, APS officials raised concerns that the school is controlled by what they say is a too-close relationship between the school and the umbrella non-profit organization that operates it. Officials also said the school’s financial reporting did not make clear what more than $400,000 was spent on for a service contract that provides the schools everything from cafeteria lunches to administration and IT.

The district cited an independent audit of the school last year noting that its parent organization, Ability Connection Colorado, billed Vanguard more than $465,000 last year for ambiguous services – some of which district officials said they were already providing, according to the district. ACCO also charged Vanguard $2.5 million last year, including over $2 million for rent at both of the school’s campuses.

District officials raised concerns that ACCO board members were influencing these payments.

Fulton told Sentinel Colorado last week that ACCO members including CEO Judith Ham will step down from the board before the district’s May deadline. Vanguard will also have to provide detailed accounting of its service agreements with ACCO and receive feedback to consider contracting with other service providers.