Board rejects Montessori bid

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— The Steamboat Springs Board of Education voted unanimously to deny the Montessori charter application at Monday night's school board meeting.

The board approved a resolution stating six reasons it found the Montessori charter application unsatisfactory and detrimental to the district's student body as a whole.

"We are disappointed with the vote," said Jody Patten, president of the Montessori Steering Committee. "We respectfully disagree with your analysis. We do anticipate this school to open in the fall and it will not have the detrimental effect depicted tonight."

Patten said the steering committee would be appealing the charter application to the state board of education.

Superintendent Cyndy Simms said the proposed budget would use funding received for students in kindergarten through sixth grade to subsidize the cost of education for private preschool-aged students.

The Montessori steering committee designed the school to have preschool through sixth grade, and extending through the ninth grade in future years.

Currently, there are 91 preschool-aged children and 37 district-funded students predicted to enroll if the school were to open in the fall of 2003.

"It would seem to me that since there are more preschool children and more preschool classes, that public money is funding a portion of the preschool classes if the facility budget is split evenly," said Dale Mellor, finance director of the Steamboat Springs School District. "I cannot be sure that public funds would never be used for the preschool classes."

Montessori Steering Committee Treasurer Tony Requist indicated at the Oct. 7 school board meeting that no public funds would be used to fund the preschool.

The funding question was considered, but the overall deficit the district would face was the main reason board members denied the application.

"My problems do not relate to the educational methodology," board member Tom Sharp said. "But there are several concerns that I couldn't support granting a charter to the Montessori school as applied for. The biggest one is the adverse economic effect that a charter Montessori school will have on the existing district."

He said the board committed to a three-year compensation plan for support staff and teachers, and does not want to see that compensation plan eliminated because of budget deficits.

Mellor predicts a minimum deficit of $700,000 after five years.

Requist submitted a financial proposal to board members that argued the district will not lose as much money as predicted, but maintain a minimum surplus of $300,000 after five years.

Mellor took into consideration the factors Requist proposed and readjusted the budget, but still reported at minimum a deficit of $700,000.

The factors were the elimination of one teaching position after three years, using enrollment figures from the Denny Hill projections and altering the percentage of students who will attend the charter from the district.

Fisher challenged the motive for the charter by saying the charter does not have a plan to actively seek out students who are currently struggling within the district's classrooms. Patten had said in earlier board meetings that 20 percent of students do not excel in a traditional classroom setting and Montessori could give those students a beneficial learning environment.

Fisher said the role of charter school as an alternative learning environment for students needing additional help is admirable, but he doesn't see how a Montessori school advocates this in their charter application.

Board member Pat Gleason said that an education system is much better with the involvement of parents, and sympathizes with the steering committee's desire for choice in the district.

However, he said his fiduciary responsibility to the district is the reason he denied the charter.

"None of this diminishes the dedication and belief you guys have," Gleason said.

Patten said she is confident the steering committee will eventually receive an overturn in the local board's vote, but wishes the district and committee could have worked their differences out instead making the issue a long and expensive legal process.

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