Hearing will decide Montessori's fate

State Board of Education makes final ruling today

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— There will be no more appeals and no more hearings. This time around, the decision is final.

Attorneys representing the Steamboat Springs Montessori Steering Committee and the Steamboat Springs School District will appear before the state Board of Education in Denver today to make their arguments for and against a Montessori charter school.

The hearing will mark the second and final time the state board will rule on the proposed charter school.

The state board previously remanded the decision back to the school district for reconsideration in January.

Several weeks later, the local school board denied the charter application for a second time, citing numerous reasons.

The school board's decision bewildered some members of the Montessori Steering Committee who had worked with district officials and board members on application revisions.

In response to the second local board rejection, the Montessori Steering Committee appealed the decision back to the state board.

Under the Colorado Charter Schools Act, a local school board's decision can be appealed twice to the state board.

Attorneys representing both sides will present their cases to the state board. If the state board finds that the local school board's final decision to deny a charter was "contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community," the state board "shall remand such final decision to the local board with instructions to approve the charter application.

The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal."

In its most recent Montessori charter school application denial, the board identified the proposed charter school's financial impact on the district and the lack of a financially sound budget for the proposed charter school as the district's primary reasons for refusing the charter.

A Montessori charter school would result in an aggregate net funding deficit of at least $1.3 million for the district during the school's first three years of operation and more than $3 million in aggregate net funding deficits over the first five years of operation, according to the district's latest denial resolution.

Though a Montessori charter school would have a financial impact on the district, that impact would not be as devastating as has been described by the district, Montessori Steering Committee members have said.

Both sides said the state's current financial crisis could play a role in the state board's final decision.

"I think with the financial circumstances facing the state, coupled with the financial impact on our students and our programs, we're hopeful the state board will recognize our concerns," Superintendent Cyndy Simms said. "We're cautiously optimistic that the state board will support our board's decision."

Montessori Steering Committee President Jody Patten said the state board probably will be influenced by the state climate but that it will look objectively at the case and hopefully continue with the state's position of providing educational choice.

"I think our attorney did a great job on the appeal to show that the impact to the district is grossly overstated," Patten said.

Since the last hearing, the Montessori Steering Committee was awarded $191,898 in startup funding through a Colorado Department of Education grant.

Additionally, the Colorado League of Charter Schools is recommending the Montessori Steering Committee receive $150,000 in Walton Foundation grants, Patten said.

Patten was hesitant to offer a guess as to how the state board will vote tomorrow.

However, if approved, the steering committee hopes to sit down with the district and work cooperatively on a contract, Patten said.

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