Updated February 6, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Steamboat Springs A request for money to expand local Montessori programs received a cool reception and many questions at Wednesday night's Education Fund Board meeting.
The proposal from the Educational Excellence Commission, for $75,000 to create an additional lower-elementary Montessori classroom for the Steamboat Springs School District, was not up for a vote on its first reading by the Fund Board. The Fund Board administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education.
The request came directly from a group of interested Montessori parents and was not a part of the district administrative team's list of priorities created after discussions with teachers and staff at each school. The money would be used to outfit a second lower-elementary classroom and for the first year's salary for a classroom aide. The international Montessori curriculum dictates that each classroom should have an aide.
School Board President Robin Crossan questioned who would pay for the aide after the first year.
Because students in the lower elementary eventually would move out of that classroom, Crossan also questioned whether this would become a larger project involving more expenses in the future.
"The cost isn't just this year. What is the long-term cost, and who is paying that cost to create the lower elementary but also the bead to the upper elementary?" she asked.
Fund Board member Mike Loomis said the potential expansion of the Montessori program is something that should be decided by the district.
"I would want to know what's the direction of the district in regards to Montessori. Where are we going with this thing? Two years from now, when we have 50 to 60 students and demand grows, what do we do?" he said. "Without some indication of direction from the district, I would vote no on this."
The Steamboat Springs School Board would have to accept the gift from the Fund Board before the program could be put into place, and Loomis said he did not want to support a grant request that may be rejected.
Fund Board member Denise Connelly, who also is the vice president of the School Board, questioned why the program was necessary.
"Is there a need not being met in the district that this is going to fill?" she asked. "I would like to know if we were providing a program that we don't already meet in the regular classroom, if there are kids who are not successful in the regular program and there is some kind of guaranteed success in Montessori."
Fund Board members asked for more concrete data on the demand, efficacy and cost per student of the of the Montessori classes for the second reading of the project.
Crossan also questioned why the school district would have to implement the plan.
"Why doesn't it just break off and become a charter school if there's that much demand?" she asked.
Carrie Requist, who has two daughters in the Montessori program and is a supporter of the classroom, said the group is trying to gain funding through the Fund Board and not looking at a charter school option.
Requist said the meeting was confusing because there were questions asked but no chance for the supporting group to give answers.
"I was just confused by the process," she said. "I couldn't tell if they actually wanted answers in the meeting or not."
Requist said she is preparing a list of answers to present to the Fund Board at the proposal's second reading.
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, who said the proposal was "absolutely not" presented by the school district, agreed that it was hard to make sense out of the discussion.
"I think there was a lot going around the room - a lot of misinformation - and we weren't allowed to speak," she said. "I think that was frustrating."
The Fund Board will meet again March 4 to discuss the budget.