Fund Board to address hot topics

Montessori expansion, small class sizes on tonight's agenda

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If you go

What: Meeting of the Education Fund Board, which administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education

Where: In the basement of the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street

Agenda

5:30 p.m. Call to order

6:15 p.m. Capital Commission first readings - Hayden and South Routt school districts

6:30 p.m. Educational Excellence Commission first readings

7:30 p.m. Adjourn

— The Education Fund Board is slated tonight to discuss funding for Montessori programs and small class sizes in the Steamboat Springs School District.

The Fund Board administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education. Among the requests from its Educational Excellence Commission is $75,000 to expand the lower elementary Montessori program to another classroom and $800,000 to maintain small class size policies. Those recommendations, along with money for English Language Learner teachers and about a dozen other programs, are included in the first version of the commission's proposal.

"It's probably more than we can afford - we're going to have to sharpen our pencils and prioritize," said Paige Boucher, a member of the commission and representative to the Fund Board.

Three groups, which also include technology and capital commissions, bring requests to the Fund Board, which reviews them on first reading and vote on approval after a second reading. Tonight's meeting is a first reading of Educational Excellence requests.

Boucher said the Montessori recommendation was "certainly the most controversial" of the requests put forward.

"There was a lot of discussion about whether parents are choosing that because it offers small class size," she said. The Montessori program has one teacher and one aide per classroom. The ideal class size can be as large as 30 students according to the international Montessori curriculum, but because of space constraints, Steamboat classes have about 24 students.

If the Fund Board passes the request after a second reading, $40,000 would be used to buy equipment for the classroom, $25,000 would be used for the first year of salary for the aide and $10,000 would be available to pay for the teacher's Montessori certification, if necessary.

Commission member Paul Sachs said he did not vote for the Montessori program. The request was not presented by the school district but instead by a group of parents who would like to see the program expand.

"One of the issues that remains unsolved is what happens when you have two classrooms of lower Montessori graduating into a situation where there is no Montessori," he said.

The lower elementary program, for students in first through third grades, feeds into an upper elementary classroom.

Sachs said there is clearly a desire from parents in the program to expand to another classroom and "it will clearly fill up immediately" if passed.

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler, a member of the administrative team that compiled the district's requests, said the Montessori program is successful and has support from parents.

"Having said that, I think it has competition with a need to either keep our full-day kindergarten at the size it is right now or to enlarge it, and as you know economic times are getting tougher," she said. "It would be a chance to figure out how we can best serve the most children with the money we have coming through the district."

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