Financial impacts of Montessori examined

School board, committee discuss revisions to charter application

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— The Steamboat Springs School District will face budget deficits in the coming years.

Whether the district is willing to accept the added deficit imposed by a Montessori charter school is a decision the school board will make Feb. 10, when it plans to take action on a revised Montessori charter school application.

Members of the Montessori Steering Committee attended Monday night's board study session and discussed revisions to their application with board members. Much of the discussion centered on the financial impact of the potential charter school on the district.

Steering committee member Tony Requist provided the board with three potential five-year budget plans for the school. Each budget reflected a different scenario concerning the number of classes, enrolled students and grade levels served by the charter school.

School District Finance Director Dale Mellor said the budgets were realistic.

"I looked through the budgets and everything seems very reasonable to me," Mellor said.

Using the committee's three budget plans, Mellor calculated three corresponding five-year budgets for the district. Each plan showed deficits for the district, though the potential effect of the Montessori school caused, on average, only one-third of the deficit.

"These deficits are not going to be here totally because of the Montessori school," Mellor said. "There will be deficits anyway. Having a Montessori charter school kind of exacerbates the problem a little bit."

Both sides acknowledged many of the numbers used to calculate the budget scenarios are impossible to determine ahead of time.

The financial impact to the district would be greater in the long run, when the Montessori school's finances would be more certain and the school could work with the district to minimize the impact, Requist said.

"If (the charter school) happens, this is a lot of change for the district," Requist said. "We would hope to work together to make the impact as painless as possible."

The financial impact would harm the district's ability to continue to be a leader in the state and across the nation in education reform, School Board President Paul Fisher said.

"The way we look at it now is that it slows down our ability to reform education for the other 1,800 kids in the district," Fisher said.

The number of students and sources of funding also remain obstacles to the Montessori school. The steering committee is hoping to secure a start-up grant from the state and said it is willing to accept enrollment and funding contingencies in a contract agreement with the board.

Despite the differences between the two sides, steering committee President Jody Patten remained optimistic.

"It appears they're trying to work out an agreement with us," she said. "We'll come up with an addendum to the application that everyone can live with."

The board is scheduled to rule on a revised application at next week's board meeting, but both sides agreed seeking an extension that would enable them to continue discussions could be beneficial.

The board denied the original application in October 2002. The denial was appealed to the state Board of Education, which remanded the issue back to the district for reconsideration. By law, the local school board has 30 days from Jan. 15, 2003, to issue a second ruling on a revised application.

In other news, Director of Content Standards Kelly Stanford and Director of Food Services Roberta Gill presented the board with an update on the status of the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay plan, a progressive teacher and staff pay plan dependent upon an evaluation system.

The pay plan was approved in May 2002, but writing the standards for the system and working to implement a pilot program has proved difficult and time consuming.

A pilot program was originally scheduled to take place this spring, but an updated timeline calls for a mini-pilot to run late this spring, followed by a full pilot in the fall. The system will be revised following analysis of each pilot program, in hopes the school board and teachers could vote on a final system by the 2003 winter break.

"It's taken a lot of effort and a lot of thought by all of (the KSBP committee)," Stanford said. "It's hard work and it's taking a lot longer than some of us hoped, but I think in the end it will have a great impact on the district."

Also, a discussion of sample school district policies regarding community groups in the schools was tabled until more information is available.

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