Did You Know?
We realize being the only municipally owned charter school in the State of Texas makes us unique. You might have some questions about what that means or how we operate. We've put together this section to help answer some of those questions and provide more detail on topics we get asked about frequently. If you still can't find the information you're looking for, just ask us!
- What is a Charter School?
- Town Council's Role in Operating Westlake Academy
- Westlake Academy Charter Application
- Campus Expansion
- Comprehensive Westlake Academy Charter Documents
- Student Enrollment Growth
- Teacher Retention
- Town Manager and Head of School Roles
- Programme Principals and IB Coordinators
- Shared Services Model
- Campus Snapshot
What is a Charter School?
Charter schools were created by the Texas legislature in 1995 to serve as an alternative educational option to traditional independent school districts (ISD) for students and families. Charter schools offer enrollment to students from approved geographic boundaries and are subject to many of the same financial and academic accountability standards as traditional ISDs.
There are four types of charters in Texas.
- Home-rule School District Charters
- Campus or Campus Program Charters – ISD Charter Schools
- Open-enrollment Charters - Most charter schools fall in this category
- University or Junior College Operated
Westlake Academy is an open-enrollment charter school and we are unique in that we are the only charter that is managed by a municipality – the Town of Westlake.
Charter Schools are subject to fewer state laws than traditional ISD public schools, which encourages flexibility and innovation while also requiring accountability in fiscal and academic areas.
Town Council's Role in Operating Westlake Academy
The Town Council serves as the governing body for all departments of the Town of Westlake, including Westlake Academy. Thus, the Town Council is responsible for all matters that the TEA Code requires to be handled by a school board.
As it relates to Westlake Academy, Council Members approve the academic budget and sets school policies, and are accountable for the academic success of the students. Our governance structure is unlike any other charter school in Texas. As we are the only charter school in the state to be managed and operated by a municipality, the Academy’s governance structure is unlike any public charter school in the state of Texas.
Westlake Academy Charter Application
In 1999, the Town of Westlake voted to approve the Council-Manager Form of Government, following that approval the Town Council (formerly known as the Board of Aldermen) hired Trent Petty to serve as the Town’s first professionally trained Town Manager. Mr. Petty immediately began drafting policies related to the hiring of staff, negotiating economic development agreements, and generally growing the Town from what was then a small community of approximately 250 residents.
In December of 2000, the Town Council directed the Town Manager to continue to develop the Town by taking advantage of a 1995 law that allowed a municipality to operate and manage a public charter school. Through Resolution (00-54) the Council expressed its belief that, “a local school is recognized as a necessary, unifying and defining element of any community, and the Town of Westlake is without this most important community component.”
The Resolution further clarified that the, “Town of Westlake intends to create an open-enrollment charter school in the Town of Westlake that represents an alternative style and type of public education intended to complement and supplement the three local ISDs.”
Mr. Petty officially submitted the more than 250-page application for an open-enrollment charter school to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in February of 2001. The application included an overview of the governing structure of the Town, projected school demographics, a proposed business plan, facility management information, suggested geographic boundaries, goals and objectives, start-up budget plans, and a variety of other documents designed to support the Town’s ability to provide educational services.
The Town received conditional approval to proceed with creating the school in July of 2001, and the Town Manager began responding to the inquiries and directions provided during the application review process. After two years of negotiation and review with TEA, the contract was finally signed in the fall of 2003.
The charter and all its amendments serve as the contract between the Town of Westlake as the sponsoring entity and the State of Texas. The charter is not, however, the single source of rules and guidelines regarding charter school operations and must be viewed in tandem with applicable federal and state law, rules adopted by the Texas Commissioner of Education for open-enrollment charter schools, and local policies adopted by the charter holder, i.e. Town of Westlake. Each charter issued by the State is periodically renewed by TEA and reauthorized for a 10-year period. Our charter was renewed in both 2007 and 2016.
The Town chose this innovative and creative approach to creating community and is currently the only municipality (governmental entity) that operates a charter school in Texas. This unique structure allows us to partner our municipal team with our academic team to create a well-supported school that benefits from the strength and stability of the municipal government.
Relevant Questions and Answers:
- Why is the Town of Westlake the charter holder for the school?
- How is the Town authorized to operate a school?
- Is Westlake Academy its own 501(c)(3) entity?
- Can the charter be transferred to another 501(c)(3) or entity to run the school?
- Can Westlake Academy be reorganized as its own Independent School District (ISD)?
Why is the Town of Westlake the charter holder for the school?
There are currently four categories of entities that may be chartered to operate a public school within the state. Those are:
(1) an institution of higher education as defined under Section 61.003;
(2) a private or independent institution of higher education as defined under Section 61.003;
(3) an organization that is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3), Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C. Section 501(c)(3)); or
(4) a governmental entity.
The Town of Westlake applied for the Westlake Academy charter as a governmental entity. When the initial application was filed with TEA in 2001, the Council proposed that the charter be held and the school be managed, by a separate non-profit – the Westlake Academy Corporation. In reviewing the application, TEA rejected that request and required that the Town acknowledge its understanding that the Town of Westlake would be the charter holder for the school. Thus, the Town as the Charter holder is ultimately responsible to TEA for the operations and educational progress of Westlake Academy students.
How is the Town authorized to operate a school?
When TEA approved charter school legislation in 1995, governmental entities were one of the four categories of organizations that were eligible to apply for a charter contract. This allows not only municipalities but county governments, to operate and manage a charter school and offer educational services as a business unit within their organization. Of the 179 Texas charter schools, Westlake Academy is the only one operated by a governmental entity.
Is Westlake Academy its own 501(c)(3) entity?
Can the charter be transferred to another 501(c)(3) or entity to run the school?
The Town Council cannot transfer the charter to another non-profit, government, or private entity to operate the school. The contract to operate Westlake Academy is between the Texas Education Agency and the Town of Westlake.
Can Westlake Academy be reorganized as its own Independent School District (ISD)?
The Town of Westlake is divided into three, high-performing school districts – Keller ISD, Carroll ISD, and Northwest ISD. Westlake children also may attend Westlake Academy, an open-enrollment charter school, or any of the private schools in the DFW area. Under current law, a new school district may not be created with an area of less than nine square miles or fewer than 8,000 students in average daily attendance. The Town’s boundaries encompass an area of less than nine square miles; therefore, we are not eligible to create our own independent school district.
The facilities and property used by the school are owned and managed by the Town of Westlake. The Town has the authority to issue debt, oversee construction, and manage the facilities as the charter holder for the Academy.
This support is an important component of fiscal stewardship for Westlake Academy, as charter schools in Texas receive a very small allocation of revenue from the state for facilities. At the time of the Town’s charter application to operate the school (2003), the State did not provide any facility funding for charter schools. Today, they allocate approximately $200 annually per student. Due to the significantly reduced amount charters receive for facility costs, you may see public charter schools using retail storefronts, modular (portable) buildings, or other large industrial areas for school operations. Other charters may be fortunate to receive support from private foundations that fund buildings specifically for the school’s needs.
As the Town of Westlake began the process of moving forward with constructing the necessary buildings for the campus, Staff identified an issue that complicated the project. While the State had allowed a municipality to hold a charter for school operations – it did not provide an avenue for governmental entities to issue debt to build school buildings. Thus, a funding mechanism did not exist which would allow the Town to issue debt to construct the buildings for our academic services department – Westlake Academy. The Town Manager worked closely with our legislative official, Representative Vickie Truitt, to draft a bill (HB 1564) that would provide the Town with the ability to issue debt to construct the campus. The Town Manager also testified before the legislature and the bill passed and became law in 2003.
- Who owns the buildings and property that the school currently uses?
- How much total debt is currently owed on the buildings for the school?
Who owns the buildings and property that the school currently uses?
The Town of Westlake owns the buildings and has issued debt which is paid out of the municipal budget revenue for the facilities. The school does not pay rent or the major maintenance and repair costs to the campus buildings. This allows the revenue received by the State to be fully allocated to educational needs.
How much total debt is currently owed on the buildings for the school?
The original construction project for the campus was completed in 2003 at a cost of approximately $18.2 million. The original buildings contained the school, and the municipal service offices for the Town and were designated as the Town of Westlake Municipal Complex. All of the municipal service departments (Finance, Human Resources, Fire Administration, Municipal Court, Council Chambers, Planning & Development, etc.) were housed in the PYP building on the north side of the property, while the academic classrooms and front office were in the current PYP building on the south side of the campus.
As the school expanded grade level offerings and needed additional classroom space, the municipal services departments moved off-site to rented office space. The first departments relocated to the Solana Office Park in 2006 and included the Municipal Court and the courtroom, the Town Marshal’s office, and the Town Secretary. They were soon followed by Public Works, Planning and Development, Finance, Fire/EMS Administration, Human Resources, Parks & Recreation, and the Town Manager’s office the following year.
Our first campus expansion involved the addition of the Sam & Margaret Lee Arts and Sciences Center. The need for this facility was driven by the lack of adequate science lab and art space for our students in the Diploma Programme. The students were commuting to Tarrant County Junior College to meet their lab requirements for high school graduation.
The Town was fortunate to receive a substantial donation from Mrs. Margaret Lee in memory of her husband Sam Lee for whom the building is named. The more commonly known, Arts & Sciences Building provided much-needed lab and art space to allow the students to expand their knowledge in both subject areas and created additional office space for staff.
When originally planned, the building footprint also included a black box theater/flex gathering space and art rooms. These areas were ultimately removed from the project as the estimated $8 million was not raised in full during the capital campaign.
The building was funded through private donations, the Westlake Academy Foundation capital campaign, and debt which was issued through the Town of Westlake. The final cost for the facility was approximately $5.1 million and was comprised of funding from a variety of sources.
As part of the building package for the Arts & Sciences Building, funding remained at approximately $280K which allowed the Town to utilize those funds to purchase the first set of modular (portable) buildings for the campus. The modular buildings provided additional classroom space for students and also allowed the Academy to expand course offerings at the Diploma Programme level. In addition to the modular buildings, the staff and student parking spaces were expanded.
For the second campus project, the Town Council expanded the footprint of the buildings by adding a Secondary Building, Sam & Margaret Lee Fieldhouse, and Multi-purpose Hall to accommodate student enrollment growth, enhance the athletics program and provide an additional cafeteria and physical education space for the Primary Years Programme. They also authorized the purchase of the second set of modular buildings for the campus. The overall cost for the facilities was approximately $11 million and included both donated funds and bond proceeds from the Town of Westlake.
Lee Family Donation $ 1,000,000
Town of Westlake Debt $ 8,500,000
Westlake Academy Foundation $ 130,000
Municipal Transfers $ 1,370,000