Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School District filed a motion Monday in Denver District Court requesting the its legal dispute with Steamboat Springs Montessori be settled in Routt County, not Denver.
The change of venue request was submitted less than three weeks after Steamboat Springs Montessori filed a lawsuit against the district for its refusal to approve a Montessori charter school application. The school district, under law, had 20 days to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed July 9 in Denver.
Having the dispute settled in Steamboat makes the most sense, school district attorney Chris Gdowski said.
"We think (Routt County District Court) is the appropriate venue," Gdowski said, because the action cited in the lawsuit -- the Steamboat School Board's decision not to follow an order from the State Board of Education -- took place in Steamboat, where the Steamboat School Board holds all its meetings and makes its decisions.
A Routt County venue also will be more convenient for any witnesses who may be called to testify in the event of a trial and for Steamboat taxpayers, who have a vested interest in the ruling, Gdowski said.
Steamboat School Board President Paul Fisher said because the State Board chose not to be a participant in the lawsuit there is even less reason for the case to be decided in Denver, away from the participants.
"It just makes sense for it to be in Routt County," Fisher said.
Steamboat Springs Montessori filed the suit in Denver because that is where the State Board makes its decisions, and those decisions are central to this case, Montessori attorney Bill Bethke said when he filed the lawsuit earlier this month.
Steamboat Springs Montessori President Jody Patten said the case should be settled in Denver, where the State Board ruled in favor of the Montessori applicants.
"We view this as a clear matter of state law and we think a judge in Denver could just as easily decide this impartially," Patten said.
The district's convenience rationale doesn't fly, Patten said.
"The convenient thing would be to have (the Steamboat School Board) sit down and follow the law," she said.
Bethke was out of his office and not available for comment Monday
The district's motion for a change of venue is not an official reply to the merits of the lawsuit, Gdowski said. The location request had to be made prior to the district's response to the lawsuit.
Steamboat Springs Montessori filed a lawsuit against the school district and its board of education three weeks ago. The suit is an attempt to enforce a State Board order to approve a Montessori charter school application. The State Board twice ruled that the Steamboat School Board acted against the best interests of the community, the district and its pupils in denying the charter application.
The Steamboat School Board cited numerous reasons for twice denying the application, chief among them the financial impact it said the charter school will have on district programs and students. The School Board also has questioned the need for a public Montessori school in light of the success of the district's existing schools.
The case has sparked debate throughout the state on the effectiveness of the Colorado Charter Schools Act, a 1993 law designed to promote educational choice and innovation. Under the act, charter schools receive their district's per-pupil funding dollars for the number of students who attend the charter. Numerous state officials say the dispute will lead to change in the charter law.
Steamboat Springs Montessori probably will have about 20 days to respond to the change of venue request, after which a judge will issue a ruling deciding where the case will be decided, Gdowski said.
There have not been any negotiations toward a charter school contract between the district and Steamboat Springs Montessori, and Gdowski said he thinks the case will have to be settled through the legal process.
"It's always tough to predict what will happen in litigation," Gdowski said. "My gut tells me we'll have to address these issues in the legal process. Whether it goes to trial -- there's a part of me that thinks or hopes it might not."
Steamboat Springs Montessori remains open to the possibility of negotiating a contract that will work for both sides, but the school district has no interest in negotiating, Patten said.
A judge could make a ruling on the lawsuit without the suit going to trial, Gdowski said.
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