City approves conditional permits for embattled charter school

BLACKFOOT — One embattled Blackfoot charter school will likely have facilities for its students next school year. Another one might not.

Blackfoot’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved conditional-use permits for Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center. The permits grant the school continued use of its elementary location on Hunter’s Loop and its middle school location in the Riverside Plaza.

Another school at risk of losing its permit, Bingham Academy, has not submitted a permit application to the city and was not on Tuesday’s meeting agenda. Bingham operates in Riverside Plaza’s former Twin Theater building.

With the new school year approaching, the prospect of not obtaining new permits had presented a pressing problem for both schools, which together serve some 700 students. The schools originally planned to build a K-12 campus off Harbor Drive across from Blackfoot’s airport. Those plans halted due to the airport’s zoning regulations.

Commissioner’s approved Blackfoot’s permits pending further review of the school’s four-year plan to move into a new location. Commissioner Ron Ramirez told Idaho Education News that he reviewed a draft of Blackfoot’s transition plan and doesn’t anticipate any further problems for the school.

During the meeting, Blackfoot principal Debbie Steele promised to submit the final plan to the city before the commission’s next scheduled meeting on July 23. Steele and other school leaders told commissioners that they are in the process of purchasing a location for a new facility, but didn’t say where because the school had not yet closed on the property.

It’s still unclear whether or not Bingham will submit an application for a conditional use permit. Ramirez said the school missed the date for getting on the agenda for the commission’s July meeting.

The commission could consider holding a special meeting in the coming weeks to discuss Bingham’s future, Ramirez said, but can’t until the school submits an application for a new permit.

“We can’t do anything until then,” Ramirez said.

Commissioners say the schools’ administrators have already missed timelines for transitioning out of the facilities. Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll told Idaho Education News in May that he worked with the schools for 10 months to help them draft a project management plan.

In August, the commission expressed regret in granting previous conditional use permits to the schools, according to meeting minutes.

Three members of the commission who have ties to the Blackfoot School District recused themselves for Tuesday’s public hearing, discussion and vote related to the permits.

Over 100 parents, students and employees from the schools attended the meeting, with several describing the schools as a safe and valuable education option for their children.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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