Montessori question approved

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— The Steamboat Springs School District Board of Education approved on Monday the wording of an advisory ballot question that will, in effect, poll the community on the Montessori charter school issue.

Board members Pat Gleason, Tom Sharp and Tami Havener voted unanimously in favor of the question after a discussion over its wording. Board President Paul Fisher and board member Paula Stephenson did not attend Monday's meeting.

Area voters will be asked on election day whether they "agree with the School Board's decision to deny the application of the proposed Montessori charter school."

The question must be certified with county clerk by Sept. 10 if it is to appear on the ballot. Gleason, Sharp and Havener allowed changes to be made to the wording of the question if a majority of the board decides to do so at its Sept. 8 study session.

The School Board would like those outside the community to understand the people of Steamboat support the board's denial and subsequent refusal to approve a Montessori charter school application, Sharp said.

"We have sensed that persons who have opined on this issue down in Denver may not be aware that the community is supportive of our position," Sharp said. "We want to give the opportunity for community members to voice that support."

The board's decision to refuse to follow a State Board of Education order to approve the Montessori charter school application drew criticism from numerous lawmakers and state officials, including Gov. Bill Owens.

"If the majority supports our position, we want to communicate that to the persons in Denver who have been critical of our position," Sharp said.

Steamboat Springs Montessori released a statement Monday criticizing the School Board's decision to place the advisory question on the ballot.

"We are disappointed that the School Board had decided to take the irrelevant step of putting an advisory question on the ballot instead of working together with the Steamboat Springs Montessori charter school board," the statement read. "We are open and willing to negotiate and believe that we could come to a workable contract that would negate the need for the current lawsuit and allow us to open Steamboat Springs Montessori charter school to let the families in this district express their real choice and determine if the charter school is necessary.

"The (Colorado) Charter School Act allows for the community to vote with its feet by choosing to attend the charter school or not -- that's where the true vote happens."

The School Board believes it has the support of the community based on comments made to board members, Sharp said.

"If measured on the basis of people coming up to board members and commenting on the matter, we believe we have strong support in the community," he said. "And that's the reason we're asking the advisory question."

It appears the future of a public Steamboat Montessori school is in the hands of the justice system. Steamboat Springs Montessori filed a lawsuit July 9 against the district and the School Board. A judge is expected to rule within the next month on whether the case will be heard in Routt County or Denver.

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