BLACKFOOT – Bingham Academy (BA) continues to prepare for the 2019-2020 school year despite the buzz, questions, and concerns presented throughout media outlets. BA, a separate entity from Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center (BCCLC), has yet to be formally placed on the agenda at any of the planning and zoning meetings but has been bundled with BCCLC during discussions and deliberations.
Dan Cravens, a board member for both BCCLC and BA, and BA's attorney Nathan Olsen met with media outlets on Thursday to try and shed some light on their position and future. Cravens provided those in attendance with a tour of the school, including how the school repurposed the old theaters into auditoriums, how they have continued to grow, build interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and how the school has branched into E-sports (competitive video gaming).
Olsen wants those who's children attend BA to rest assured that the school will remain open, even if a judiciary must be involved. "The message I want to give from a legal standpoint is that this school is going to be open because there are new teachers here that have been hired. They have been here for five years. They are legally allowed to be here, we've appealed to the city, and everything has stayed pending the appeal to the city, but regardless there has been no enforcement action. This school will open. And that's the assurance we want to give to the parents, to students, to teachers, to administrators," Olsen stated. Olsen added that he wants to defuse any misconceptions about the school not opening, and that all actions will be taken to keep the school open.
A letter was provided to BA regarding the use of their current location in the Parkway Plaza demanding the cessation of the premises as a school. "Use of the facility as a school must cease immediately," stated the letter from Blackfoot's Planning and Zoning Administrator, Kurt Hibbert. It is from the words in this letter that, Olsen drafted a formal notice of appeal. The notice of appeal moves the actions and decisions regarding BA to the Blackfoot City Council, and stays and further actions pending a decision from the council. Olsen outlines multiple concerns in his appeal.
First, The city of Blackfoot has long allowed the use of the property by Bingham Academy as a school and is now barred from requiring a Conditional Use Permit for the property's continued use as a school. Olsen outlines the actions taken when the school first started looking at the plaza as a viable location in 2014. At the time, Rex Orgill was the P&Z Administrator, and he, along with former mayor Paul Loomis, and Ben Hershi from the fire department met with the administration of BA to make sure that any issues were addressed. After all concerns were met, the school was opened.
Had there been any reason to protest or require BA to obtain a CUP, the City of Blackfoot "would have needed to file a misdemeanor complaint against the school within one year of its occupation of the property," according to Olsen's appeal. "Simply put, the P&Z has no basis to impose a CUP on the BA, and I am very confident that a court will agree," Olsen finished with in his first section of appeal.
Olsen's second notation of appeal surrounds P&Z's continued claims that the school is nonconforming. Olsen notes Idaho Appellate Court rulings have in previous cases, sided with the use of nonconforming locations as schools, and that the property is "constitutionally protected."
Olsen does not want to take this any further; in fact, his goal is to open lines of dialogue between BA and the City of Blackfoot, so that a cordial agreement may be reached without having to involve the court system. "We want a formal dialogue with the city. We want them to take a closer look and do the right thing. I look forward to our conversation," Olsen stated. In any efforts to evict the school would have to be formally done through the city prosecutor and then the decision of whether to fine or evict the school would be made; none of which has been done at this time. "The formal process is crucial," he affirmed
When asked about how the Idaho Charter School Commission felt about their current location, Olsen expressed that they have had no issues with their current location. He went on further to explain that an old motel in Island Park has been reinvented into a charter school, that there has been a charter school operating inside the Pine Ridge Mall in Pocatello, and that these non-traditional locations are becoming more traditional.
Cravens, who is the only non-parent member of the BA's board, expressed their visions. Their goal is to see students excel, and he feels that the staff at BA are the right fit for the job. BA tries to specialize in bolstering the students' education and learning abilities, and isn't afraid to help those who have fallen behind catch back up. He added that the charter schools have been a blessing to the community and looks forward to the future. He wants to see the charter schools grow and have their students not only graduate from high school, but graduate with an associate degree and be on their way toward a bright future. "We want to impact the community," Cravens said.
Since opening, BA was the first high school in the state of Idaho to reach STEM accreditation, and continues to follow that pathway. Offering courses that directly fall in line with STEM, the goal is to provide the students with not only a high school education, but the building blocks to become successful in their futures. Some of the steps being taken include offering Certified Medical Assistant programs, different science courses, computer and engineering targeted courses, and using their E-sports teams as an avenue to create interest in computer and software engineering. The school currently has 119 students enrolled with expectations of being closer to 135 students by the beginning of the school year.