Charter school opening in doubt

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Parents hoping to enroll their children in the proposed Montessori charter school in the fall should make other plans, the committee trying to create the Montessori charter school announced Friday.

The Montessori Charter School Steering Committee has lost faith that the Steamboat Springs School District will sign a contract anytime in the near future, said Jody Patten, who is chairman of the committee.

In April, the Colorado Board of Education ordered the Steamboat Springs School District to accept the Montessori charter school's application and negotiate a charter school contract. That has yet to happen.

"We want to negotiate, but we cannot make (the school district) do it in a timely fashion," Patten said. "We are racing the clock now."

School Board President Paul Fisher said the district is not dragging its feet.

"I understand (Patten's) frustration, but we are in the middle of a superintendent search, budget issues and Education Fund Board issues," Fisher said. "And we have had board members on spring break. Those have all gone on in the last four weeks."

School Board member Tom Sharp said he was surprised to hear of the Montessori committee's statement to parents. Neither he nor Superintendent Cyndy Simms would comment on the statement.

At a previous School Board meeting, Sharp suggested the School Board, which has twice voted against establishing the charter school, might want to explore legal action to prevent the charter school. Fisher said Sharp was not speaking for the board, but Fisher did not rule out a lawsuit by the school district.

The School Board met with attorney Chris Gdowski at a meeting last month to discuss the charter school. Fisher said the School Board will decide how to proceed on the Montessori charter school at the board's May 19 meeting.

In the letter to supporters, Montessori Steering Committee members said they suspect that even if the board votes to move ahead with negotiations at its next meeting, board members will still try to prevent a fall opening.

"There are strong indications that even if the charter application is approved at or after the May 19 meeting, the district will either not negotiate at all or negotiate in bad faith with the goal of making it impossible to open in the fall," the letter states.

Seventy parents, representing 103 potential Montessori students, have expressed interest in the charter school, Patten said. Given the lack of negotiations and time constraints, Patten said the committee felt it was necessary to warn those parents so that they could make other plans.

"We have been working tirelessly on this," Patten said, "but one thing we don't have right now is time."

Without a contract, the Montessori school can't hire teachers and can't sign a lease with Colorado Mountain College, where the group had planned to have its classrooms, Patten said. And without a lease, the school can't begin the renovations necessary to get the site ready for the fall.

Her worries stem from a deadline on the $182,000 grant the charter school received from the Colorado Department of Educ-ation. Patten said the money must be used by July.

"We are not giving up," she added. "It is possible that (Montessori) will be open in the fall, but it would be wise for parents to make other plans."

Fisher said he could not speculate on the school's fall opening. "I have no idea what they have to get done," he said.

The publicly funded Montes-sori school would serve students in grades kindergarten through sixth. The school also would include a preschool component. Parents would have to pay for preschool.

The contract being offered to the school district by the Montessori Steering Committee is a revised version of the North Routt Charter School contract.

"We thought that was a good starting point," Patten said. "The district already agreed to it once."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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