Montessori questions question

School Board wants poll question put on November ballot

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The Steamboat Springs School Board's decision to poll voters on its handling of the ongoing Montessori charter school situation has baffled representatives of Steamboat Springs Montessori.

The School Board approved a motion Monday to authorize an advisory question to be placed on the November ballot regarding community support for the school district's well-entrenched position against approving Montessori's charter school application. The outcome of the vote will be nonbinding, the board said.

The precise wording of the ballot question will be approved at the School Board's August meeting, said Anne Muhme, assistant to the superintendent, on Tuesday.

However, the results of the ballot question could serve some purpose for the school district in the lawsuit filed against it by Steamboat Springs Montessori, School Board President Paul Fisher said Monday.

Steamboat Springs Montessori attorney Bill Bethke questioned what purpose that could be.

"It's a glorified public opinion poll," Bethke said. "I'd be surprised if (the results) could even be admitted as evidence."

Bethke said he has never heard of a school district doing anything like this.

"I think it's not only utterly irrelevant, but could be viewed by a judge as an attempt at blackmail," he said. "It's grandstanding on (the School Board's) part."

The results of the poll question will help Denver politicians understand what the community of Steamboat Springs wants, School Board Vice President Tami Havener said.

Steamboat Springs Montessori doesn't have the money to run an election campaign, nor does it understand why the School Board is willing to spend money on a nonbinding ballot question, Montes-sori Steering Committee Presi-dent Jody Patten said.

"We get funds through grants to start schools, not run a political campaign," Patten said, though she acknowledged she would like the opportunity to educate community members on Montessori and charter schools. "I question how much it will cost (the school district) to run the election and if that money can best be used for educational purposes."

Muhme, who handles elections for the school district, said she did not know how much the ballot question will cost the district. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland was out of the office Tuesday; one of her employees said Weinland has the only person who can determine how much it will cost.

Havener said the School Board hasn't sure exactly what the question will cost, but that the cost will be minimal because the school district already has an issue on the ballot.

The board's approval of the ballot question came immediately after its executive session during Monday's special meeting. The issue was not specifically addressed on the meeting's agenda.

Patten said the ballot question could be used as an attempt to trap incoming School Board members into making decisions based on the poll's outcome. It will be difficult for incoming board members to take a stand against the popular vote, whatever that vote may be, Patten said.

Fisher and Tom Sharp recently announced they will not seek re-election.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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