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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Growing Support

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  • ?Walton Rural Life School Principal Natise Vogt knew that when her school became a charter five years ago, she would need to do fund-raising to sustain her school.?But the principal of a school that is regarded as a pillar of education excellence – whether it is toured by international educators or awarded as one of the country's best – is not getting the donated money needed to build a larger school along with increasing enrollment. Since becoming a charter school, Walton has grown from about 90 students to 175 for the upcoming school year. Vogt wants to add two more classrooms, a storage room and restroom facilities; this would allow the school to have two units for every grade but comes at a cost of about $300,000. Growing to a two unit school was a charge given to the school by the district so Walton Rural Life School would be in less danger of being closed, Vogt said.?“The more students we have the less they have to spend per pupil, and so we wouldn't be the expensive school out there,” Vogt said. “We haven't had stability for a long time.”?In Kansas charter schools must be part of a school district and answer to the school board. The district funds salaries, maintenance on the building, insurance, some curriculum and can even share specialists like librarians or physical education teachers with the charter school. Districts can also fund new buildings, but Walton was not included in the 29.9 million bond issue from 2007.?“Right now it's tough all over the state of Kansas because of a lack of state funding from the government,” Vogt said. “I think our situation is unique in Newton just because the way the bond was done and the way Walton wasn't included.”?Newton School Board member Barbara Bunting said Walton Rural Life School was still getting money from a three year grant at the time of the bond, and the district was unsure of how successful the Walton Rural Life School would be. There are many excellent public charter schools that garner lots of attention and as many that experiment and close up after three years of funding, Bunting said. The district is still paying on two bonds and has no plans of another bond issue, Bunting said.?“At the time (of the bond) the evaluation was that we needed work in so many areas of our district that we focused on those,” Bunting said.?As Walton Rural Life School continues to grow, Bunting now sees the need for the school to expand. About a year ago, Vogt and her fellow Walton Rural Life School teachers informed the school board of their fundraising efforts for more building space and asked for a “blessing” on the project. The vote passed 4-3 to support the school's decision to expand. The dissenting voters said their decision was based solely on finances and that there are open classrooms throughout the schools in Newton for Walton's students, Vogt said.?“While we were thrilled that it passed, we were disappointed we didn't have more support,” Vogt said. “We have brought a lot of attention to the Newton school district.”?Because Walton Rural Life School is a charter, out-of-district students are also allowed to attend the school. Vogt estimated that about 30 of her students were from out of district and that added about $100,000 to the general district fund. Bunting said that although she is happy the district can educate more students, they are not recruiting from other districts.?“Ethically and morally we have a tight rope to walk,” Bunting said.?Walton Rural Life School is entering the 2012-2013 school year at full capacity because they received approval to hire a first-grade teacher – allowing for two units of kindergarten and first grade. A music room is being converted to a classroom to accommodate the additional 20 students. The endowment for additional classrooms currently has about $30,000 – a far-cry from the $300,000 needed, Vogt said. Much of the money came from Cargill and the Harvey County Farm Bureau who each gave $10,000. Vogt said that despite the school's success she is not getting very far with donations.?“I can't get to the right people,” Vogt said. “You need to get to someone in charge of the money, and I don't usually get past secretaries … I'm not giving up yet.” 
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