The proposed STEM School and Academy expansion, which would have included adding kindergarten through fourth grades, was denied Feb. 16 during a public hearing with Douglas County and the board of …
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The proposed STEM School and Academy expansion, which would have included adding kindergarten through fourth grades, was denied Feb. 16 during a public hearing with Douglas County and the board of education after concerns about traffic congestion and student safety were not met to the county's standards.
A number of neighboring business owners also spoke out against the expansion.
The newly added grades at the Highlands Ranch charter school, 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd., were scheduled to begin classes in the 2016-17 school year. STEM had already accepted 260 commitment letters from new students.
The present enrollment of the school is 1,280 students in grades 5-12.
"While disappointed with the conduct of the BOE proceedings, and the 'deadlocked' vote, regarding our approved charter expansion, STEM School and Academy are confident that we can continue to work with the school district and the county to resolve all pending issues prior to the 2016-2017 school year," STEM Executive Director Penny Eucker said.
During the hearing, there was a proposed motion to allow STEM additional time to gather information and present its case, but the vote ended in a 3-3 tie. Douglas County School Board member Doug Benevento was absent from the meeting.
The expansion was approved by the board of education Dec. 15 with a list of nine conditions from the district and county that needed to be met.
If these conditions were not met, "the expansion approval will be withdrawn and will be denied as of the date set forth below (Dec. 15)," the resolution read.
STEM failed to meet the condition that "permanent access permits for the five STEM access points shall be obtained by Dec. 31, 2015."
"The current (Transportation Master Plan), as it has been submitted, is not valid in the county's eyes," said Douglas County Senior Traffic Engineer Chris Martin. "We cannot give the access permits based on what has been submitted."
STEM said they are exploring a number of ways to mitigate the traffic congestion including bussing more students to the school and staggering start and end times.
The county also voiced safety concerns about students crossing Ridgeline Blvd during pickup and drop-off and parents parking and waiting in neighboring business parking lots.
Pat Kummer is the founder and president of Kummer Financial Strategies, 8871 Ridgeline Blvd. She spoke out against the expansion.
"The concern is the shared driveway that is now housing 300-plus cars per day for STEM is not allowing my clients or employees or tenants of the building access to freely come and go," Kummer said. "It is violating our ability to do business, run a business and engage with or clients at the times of day they would like to meet with us - which of course is first thing in the morning and toward the end of the business day."
Optometrist Dr. Mitch Munson, whose practice is at 8925 Ridgeline Blvd, also pointed out concerns about trespassing students and parents and traffic and said, "The best alternative, as Dr. Eucker and I have discussed, would be for STEM to find a more suitable location."
"STEM acknowledges the need for improvement of driveline-related traffic issues in the neighborhood and has implemented and is evaluating many improvement options," Eucker said. "STEM has an excellent traffic related safety record since its inception five years ago and has never had a significant traffic or driveline related accident or injury. Safety of our students continues to be a top priority at STEM and significant resources, planning and logistics analysis are committed to this priority on a daily basis."
Matthew Smith, chairman of the STEM board of directors, said school officials hope to be able to meet again with the district and county in the coming weeks to get the expansion approved.
He said the parents who were planning to send their children to the new elementary next year may be hurt the most.
Open enrollment in the school district runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 5 and allows students to sign up to attend any school in the district that has room for them, including charters, for the following school year.
"It's essentially too late for those parents," Smith said. "The open-enrollment deadline has already passed. It's going to be difficult for those students to be placed at other schools now."
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