Kindergarten students Tatym Bisco and Siena Guzman-Newton play with dominos during a mathematics exercise at the Moab Charter School. The school has received approval on a USDA loan that will allow the school to buy the property it has been leasing since 2002. [Photo by Kristin Millis/ Moab Sun News]

The Moab Charter School recently received $671,000 USDA loan and a $100,000 donation from an anonymous donor.

The money is coming at a good time, said school director Joseph Heywood.

“We need more room,” he said.

The school will be able to buy the property it has been leasing since 2004 when it was first established by parents from Moab and Castle Valley to provide an alternative to local schools.

When Heywood became the first director of the charter school in 2008, there were 36 children enrolled and three teachers on staff, only one being certified. It now has 105 students and seven certified teachers for students from Kindergarten to sixth grade.

“The goal all along was to have a student body strong enough to purchase our campus. Every grade was multi-grade in 2008,” Heywood said. “Our goal was to separate that out so we have seven different classrooms with seven different teachers. We’re one step away from that. Next year we will split our fourth and fifth grade class. At that point we’ll have 120 to 140 students.”

The USDA loan will allow the school to buy the purchase the one-acre property, level the existing house that has been used for administration, and then build an office building and another classroom.

“We can also bring things up to ADA standards and do some landscaping,” Heywood said.

There are approximately 80 charter schools serving over 30,000 students in Utah today.

Charter schools are public schools. Each operates with state funding and may not charge tuition or require parents to make donations.

“Charters can not draw local tax like the school district does,” Heywood said.

The school had been working on a “bare-bones” budget since Heywood arrived. The school received state and federal start-up money when it was created in 2004. However, because there wasn’t a dedicated or experienced director to manage it, the school “didn’t get started the way it should have been,” Heywood said.

“We did well as enrollment increased. After four years we’re at a healthy status we’ve always sought for.”

The $100,000 donation should also make a big difference.

“We should be able to finish each year with strong programs and a healthy surplus to run into the next year so we don’t have to scrounge for money every month,” Heywood said.

The school has received donations over the years that allowed the school to offer more art programs, music programs and field trips.

“Typically we’ll get $10,000 to $20,000 a year in donations from different foundations or individuals. We received $8000 from the Grand County Education Fund over the last few years for music education,” Heywood said. “That $100,000 was a first time for us, a really big deal for us.”

Moab Charter School board member Jeffrey Eisenberg is thrilled with the loan and donation.

“There are a lot of things that the existing campus limits in use from doing,” Eisenberg said. “We’re looking to improve the campus. This is a project that will require a number of years and commitment to continue to upgrade the small campus we have.”

Although the money does make a difference, said both Heywood and Eisenberg, one of the school strengths is parental involvement, even though parent volunteer hours is not required.

“We have a really strong volunteer program and parent council. They have a strong presence volunteering in the classroom and provide special activities around the year,” Heywood said.

One of those special activities was an entry in the Electric Light Parade at the beginning of December. More than 60 children participated, whether riding the float or marching while Taiko drumming.

“Today it has a diverse blend of both students and parents, but there is a very strong commitment by parents to participate in making the school and being involved in the school with commitments to both the arts and education,” Eisenberg said.