Loveland's Independent News Source
Thompson School Board To
Appropriate $800,000 For
New Innovation School
Loveland - February 11, 2014  

The Thompson School District Board of Education has on its agenda for approval Wednesday night an
appropriation of $800,000 for a Ft. Collins architectural firm to begin designs of the district's first
"Innovation School" to be located in Centerra named the High Plains Environmental Academy.  

Innovation schools, like charter schools, are described as, "the pathway for schools and districts to
develop innovative practices, better meet the needs of individual students and allow more
autonomy to make decisions at the school leve
l" by excluding the teacher's union (Thompson
Educational Association) from representing the innovation school's teachers as part of their collective
bargaining unit.  Only a
small number of schools have been approved for "innovation" status

Unlike charter schools, innovation schools are not self-funded but instead are the full responsibility of
the school district to staff, maintain and supply with materials like any other school in the district.   
This means within two years Thompson School District will be forced to shut down an existing public
school with less attendance to afford the costs of the planned 500 student innovation school in east
Loveland unless there is some new source of revenue found to support the new innovation school.  
Created by a 2008 act of the Colorado Legislature later signed by the Governor, innovation schools
were meant to be a means by which failing schools already in the district could be given the same
autonomy as charter schools to compete for students who have a choice of which school to attend.  

The 2008 Innovation Schools Act was intended for Denver's inner-city schools to allow a process by
which failing public schools could be transformed by removing the burdens of many state laws along
with union influence and tenure provisions for teachers.  However, according to the Act, no school
could transform into an "innovation" school without a vote of support by 60% of the licensed faculty.

Henry Roman, President of the Denver Public School (DPS) teacher's union, sued DPS over an attempt
in 2012 to plan new schools as "innovation" schools which the union said was illegal under the act.  
According to Roman, making approval of the innovation status (thus preventing teachers from having
a bargaining unit) as a condition of employment at the new school fails to comply with the 2008
Innovation Act requirement that teachers must consent to the change.  

In a 2012 Denver Post article Roman is quoted as saying, "In my mind, that hardly constitutes
support.  It totally takes the idea away from teachers being part of the creation of the plan."   
spent over $20,000 defending itself from the union's lawsuit.  According to the teacher's union, the
tactic of having the parents and administrators vote to apply the "innovation" status before teachers
are even hired (as is the case with the High Plains Academy) violates the 2008 Act.  
Read the March
30, 2012 press release by the Denver Classroom Teacher's Association.

Centerra's High Plains Environmental Academy - Marketing Tool For Home buyers

The Centerra innovation school is being planned for a location north of Eisenhower off Boyd Lake
Avenue.  The design contract will go to RB+B Architects of Ft. Collins who have two employees
currently serving on the steering committee for the new school named the High Plains
Environmental Academy.  The school is closely tied to the High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC)
which is the epicenter of McWhinney's High Plains neighborhoods.  The name of the school was
chosen as part of their overall
marketing strategy in 2006 by McWhinney for its "High Plains Village"
subdivision target at environmentally conscientious home buyers.

In early 2012 the McWhinney's environmental marketing strategy back-fired when news was leaked
that McWhinney was secretly negotiating oil and gas exploration leases with Anadarko on its same
properties marketed as open space to homeowners.  In a
March 2012 article in the Denver Post,
McWhinney lobbyist and director of the Centerra Metro Districts Jay Hardy assured homeowners that
McWhinney's agreement with Anadarko would not allow drilling closer than 3/4 miles from any
home within the High Plains Environmental preserve areas.

Financing An Innovation Academy

The $800,000 to be appropriated Wednesday night will be drawn from a special account with a
current balance of just under $5 million.  Construction of the Academy is estimated to be in the $15
million range so will require debt financing (bonds) by the Thompson School District which the
district will be obligated to repay.  As part of an inter-governmental agreement with Centerra,
proceeds from Centerra's property tax diversions from the school mill levy will be made available to
the district for repaying the debt.   

The funding will come from a "school fund" account kept by Centerra of diverted property taxes via
its urban renewal authority and set aside for reimbursing Thompson School District some costs for
providing schools in Centerra.  According to a
2006 Inter-Governmental Agreement between
Centerra and the Thompson School District,

"Section 10.3. of the MFA requires the LURA to make distributions from the School Fund for the
sole purpose of reimbursing the School District for the costs, expenses and/or indebtedness
incurred for the Construction of URA Schools as the term is defined in the MFA;"

The official act of the board Wednesday night will be to approve the $800,000 RB+B Architects
require to plan the school.  Unlike other district schools, the academy will be built using alternative
heating systems not normally used in government buildings due to the technology's initial high cost
to install and ongoing maintenance requirements when compared to traditional fossil fuel heating

The Centerra diverted property tax revenue (TIF) is allowed under the 2006 agreement only to
acquire and build the school in Centerra but not maintain or staff the schools.   Proponents of the
Centerra High Plains Academy argue the per pupil funding by the State of Colorado will offset the
new costs to the district.  This provides a challenge for a school district where currently 1/3 of the
costs of educating students comes from sources other than the per pupil state allocation.  Students
already attending schools in the district, however, who transfer over to High Plains Academy will not
bring additional funding to the district but only accelerate the "too many schools" crises.

There is a consensus among senior district administration staff that an elementary school with
diminished attendance will need to be closed before the High Plains Academy can come online as
scheduled in two years.  While none are willing to talk on the record, Lincoln Elementary in Sunset
Acres near Loveland High School is the one most often cited off-the-record as an elementary school
that could be closed to free funding in the district's general fund to support the new High Plains
Thompson School District Superintendent Stan
Sheer has provided only the two memorandums
below to the Thompson Board of Education
regarding the academy for High Plains Village.

Memorandums in Board Agenda Packages

February 12, 2014 agenda item 2, consists of
brief memorandum below with no back-up or
more detailed information


Approval of High Plains Area School Design Phase

Date: February 12, 2014

Submitted by: Stan Scheer, Ed. D., Superintendent
of Schools
Michael Jones, Assistant Superintendent HR and
School Support

Recommendation: That the Board approve
proceeding with the design phase of the High
Plains area school utilizing RB+B Architects Inc.

On January 8, 2014 the Board heard an update on
the High Plains area school project. At this time,
staff is recommending to proceed with the design
phase of the project. The design phase includes all
architectural, mechanical and structural design
components up to and including
final design approval by the Board and the State.
The initial design has been started but has been
placed on hold pending approval by the Board.

It is recommended that this work be completed
by the design team, RB+B. This phase can take up
to six months for completion and must be
completed prior to construction beginning.

The cost for this phase will be paid out of the TIF

Michael Jones will be in attendance to answer

December 19, 2012 complete information
provided to the Board of Education on hiring of


Approval to Publish Request for Proposal (RFP)
for Design Team

Date: December 19, 2012

Submitted by: Stan Scheer, Ed.D., Superintendent
of Schools

Recommendation: That the Board approve
moving forward with the RFP process to
solicit for a design team to begin preliminary
planning of a school in the High Plains area.

At the December 12, 2012 Board work session,
the Board participated in a discussion, following a
staff presentation, related to the development of
an innovative learning academy in the High Plains
area. The academy will provide extended and
blended learning opportunities for students
and the citizens of the greater Northern Colorado
region with the purpose of fostering the
exploration of nature and sustainability concepts
through the filter of 21st century technology.

Initial funding for this school will come from the
tax incremental financing (TIF) from the
Centerra metropolitan taxing district. In addition
to these funds, staff will be seeking other grant
opportunities related to federal and state

In order to begin the preliminary planning
process for a school in the High Plains area, staff
request permission to publish an RFP to solicit for
a design team. Following approval of the RFP
process, bid results will be brought to the Board
for discussion and approval in alignment as per
applicable Board policy. This is anticipated to be
in mid January.

Dr. Scheer and senior administrative staff
members will be in attendance to answer
UPDATE  February 13: The Thompson School Board voted to delay
the vote 6 months pending more information from staff -
below are the details reported before the vote to delay