Montessori suit extension wanted

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The lawyer for a group of parents who sued the Steamboat Springs School District over a Montessori charter school has requested an extension to submit a response to the most recent motion filed by the district.

Steamboat Springs Montessori attorney Bill Bethke said he submitted the request for a Dec. 15 extension this week.

The briefings process, rife with motions and extensions from both sides, continues to prolong the outcome of the lawsuit, which was filed in Denver District Court in July. The venue was changed to Routt County early this fall.

When the court will issue a decision in the case remains unclear.

"That's pretty much the nature of the case," Bethke said Thursday.

Almost two weeks ago, the school district filed a response to a Steamboat Springs Montessori motion for summary judgment after it was able to secure an extension from Routt County Judge Michael O'Hara in October. The school district's reply included its own cross-motion for summary judgment.

Now Steamboat Springs Montessori will have its opportunity to respond to that cross-motion. Bethke said Steamboat Springs Montessori also will ask the court to set a hearing date.

"Frequently the court will want to hear an argument and take it under consideration (before making a decision)," Bethke said.

But because both sides, through their respective motions for summary judgment, have asked the court to rule based on the facts of the case, the judge can make a decision without a hearing if he believes none of the facts presented is in significant dispute, Bethke said.

School district attorney Richard Lyons didn't return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.

Steamboat Springs Montessori filed a motion for summary judgment Sept. 17, arguing that the unfunded mandate law cited by the school district as its defense for not obeying a state Board of Education order to approve a Montessori charter application is unconstitutional. That motion also argued, among other points, that because the state does provide some equalization funds to the school district, an order to approve the charter application actually is a funded mandate, not unfunded.

The district replied to that motion by objecting to many of the factual and legal issues raised by Steamboat Springs Montessori. The district also filed its own motion for summary judgment, by which the court is asked to make a ruling based on the undisputable facts of a case.

The lawsuit was filed in July after the school district refused to approve a Montessori charter application after it was ordered to do so by the state Board of Education. The district instead said a state unfunded mandate law gives it the authority to choose whether to follow the state Board of Education's ruling because the district isn't receiving additional funds to help it recoup the financial impact the charter school will have.

Supporters of the state's Charter Schools Act, including Gov. Bill Owens and numerous lawmakers, say the case could spark revisions to the charter law that will enable applicants to bypass local school boards in favor of an alternative chartering authority.

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