A private media company, Entertainment Properties, Inc., has purchased 22 charter schools previously owned by Imagine, Inc. Imagine operates 74 charter schools in 12 states, including two in Colorado.
Imagine Classical at Fountain Meadows has just opened in a brand new facility east of Colorado Springs after spending one year in modulars. Imagine at Firestone opened last year in a brand new facility. In order to keep costs down, both of the facilities are identical. The buildings are designed for K-8 systems holding approximately 800 students at capacity.
The demand for the Firestone and Fountain Meadows school has been incredible. In its first year of operation, Fountain Meadows third graders scored 100% on the reading CSAP. This, while holding school in temporary modular structures.
Management company-operated charter schools have the capital to invest in new buildings even before the charter school opens. The charter school typically enters into a contract for the property and assumes ownership over a long-term purchase similar to a mortgage on a house. This enables the charter school to enjoy the new facility without the up-front costs most charter schools must finance.
Schools such as Imagine at Fountain Meadows, in Colorado Springs, are able to serve a new subdivision. In a high-growth district such as Falcon 49, where the Fountain Meadows school is located, this means taxpayers don't have to approve a bond in order for the new subdivision to have its own school and avoid busing students considerable distances.
Entertainment Properties, Inc. investing in charter school facilities is actually very similar to the mechanism used by most charter schools, which is obtaining a bond through the Colorado Cultural and Educational Facilities Authority (CECFA). These CECFA bonds are purchased by private investors and paid back over time. One drawback, however, is that schools must have a three-year credit history and a solid business plan in order to obtain the private bond.
Just as the charter school philosophy to educate students in unique and innovative ways, charter school facility financing, the greatest obtacle most charter schools face, is likewise using a variety of creative methods.