Letter to the editor for Oct. 22, 2003

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Board speaks

Over the past few months, much has been made of the Steamboat Springs School Board's decision to deny an application for a Montessori Charter School. Therefore, in an effort to inform the public, we would like to explain why we, the members of the Steamboat Springs School Board continue to deny the creation of a Montessori Charter School.

Supporters of the Montessori Charter School would like people to believe that charter schools do not cost money. As they describe it, "the per-pupil-funding money simply follows the child." If only it were that simple.

Montessori Charter School applicants predict that 37 children will be leaving the elementary schools in the district in the first year. Unfortunately, those 37 children will not all be coming out of the same grade level, school or classroom. They will be spread across grades, schools and classrooms. This means an average of one to two students will leave every class (along with their per-pupil funding) which is not nearly enough to reduce teaching staff to compensate for the lost revenue without dramatically increasing class size. If the district were to keep class sizes the same, then other district programs would have to be cut to make up for the revenue.

The idea of reducing resources that would reduce educational excellence for 1,850 students in a district that ranks in the top 10 percent in the state to accommodate a charter school for 37 students simply was unpalatable to the board. If the charter doubled or tripled in size, it would mean an average of two to five students per class leaving, which simply requires further reduction of resources for the other students in the district.

The per-pupil revenue deficit, however, is just one of the monetary shortfalls the district would experience. The district retains 5 percent of the total per-pupil funding for children enrolled in charter schools to cover administrative costs that the district incurs. Yet, the North Routt Community Charter School experience showed these administrative expenses are about 11 percent.

In addition, the Montessori Board has presented a budget that is not even financially sound for the school, as it proposes a budget deficit in year one, and it fails to provide adequate contingencies in the event that loans, grants, private donations, start-up funds and/or student enrollment are less than anticipated or in the event that facility costs are greater than anticipated. And, upon further review of the budget, it was discovered that a private pre-school program would be subsidized in large part by the public funding of K-6 students.

The State Board of Education has stated that our decision was not in the best interest of the district, the community and the students. The Montessori advocates have stated that we are not making decisions based on the best interest of "all" the children. But neither the State Board of Education nor the Montessori advocates have provided a reasonable explanation as to why a successful school district should have to cut programs and increase class sizes, diminishing the educational program for 1,850 students, for the sake of a few children.

We believe that the local School Board is in a much better position to judge what is in the best interest of our students; and we believe that by continuing to oppose the creation of a Montessori Charter School, we are acting in the best interest of the district, community and the students.

The Steamboat School Board has been accused of being "law breakers," "anti-charter," and "trying to get rid of the Charter Act." The board takes strong exception to each of these allegations.

The Charter Act articulates 12 areas of reform that should be implemented to improve education. Steamboat can document substantive implementation of reform in each of these areas. It is all of this reform combined with excellent staff that is credited with the superb performance of the district.

That performance includes facts such as 94 percent of third-graders reading at grade level or above with 90 percent of third-graders reading above grade level. Most of the remaining students are receiving special education assistance or are learning English as a second language. The district's model of employing "best practices" is functioning successfully in educating all students regardless of their learning style. In fact, some Montessori elements are integrated as "best practice" in district classrooms today.

The board and this district have focused on educational excellence, not getting rid of the Charter Act.

You can voice your opinion on Election Day, Nov. 4, by voting on the Advisory Question (Referendum 3B) on the ballot. If you support the board's position to oppose the Montessori charter, vote "yes."

Paul Fisher

Steamboat Springs School Board President

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