Saturday, February 8, 2003
Steamboat Springs Last May, we voiced our opposition to a publicly funded Montessori charter school in the Steamboat Springs School District.
In the eight months since that time, our view has not changed -- such a school is not in the best interest of the district. In fact, threats that the state will cut public school funding serve to strengthen the argument against the charter school.
In October, the Steamboat Springs School Board denied the Montessori Steering Committee's application. Last month, the state Board of Education voted 4-3 to remand the application back to the school board for further review. On Monday, the local board will reconsider the application.
We feel the board should deny the application again. That would send the application back to the state board for a final determination.
Montessori, an education method that emphasizes self-guided instruction in multi-age classrooms, can be an effective way to educate children. That is not in dispute. But there are many such education methods. That does not mean public funds should be used to create a charter school each time a group of parents wants their children taught differently than the methods being used in public schools.
The Montessori Steering Committee has never established that a publicly funded Montessori school is needed in Steamboat. Nor has the committee established there is great demand for such a school.
Charter schools should be used to hold public schools accountable. In low-performing schools, charters provide parents with alternatives and can force local schools to improve through competition. But that is not the case here. Steamboat's existing elementary schools are successful. Their standardized test scores rank with the best in the state. It is hard to imagine a Montessori charter school would serve to improve such performances. Ultimately, the Montessori school would hurt the district financially.
Each time a charter school is created, the local school district loses funding from the state for each student who moves to the charter school. Now, the state Legislature is weighing a measure to cut public school funding overall.
Dale Mellor, the school district's financial director, said five-year budget projections for the school district show a deficit. A Montessori charter school, if created, would account for a third of that deficit, he said.
Steamboat, a district of 1,900 students, already has one charter school in North Routt. It makes no sense to fragment the district further with another school.
Proponents of the Montessori charter school argue the school would give parents more choice in educating their children. But that choice should be created using private, not public, funding.