What’s the status of Montessori?
September 13, 2003
°Q. There are those who believe Steamboat Springs Montessori’s lawsuit provides a great test case for the state of Colorado’s charter school law and eventually could lead to reforms. Do you believe the charter school law needs to be changed? In what ways?
A. Colorado’s Charter Act has encouraged excellence and innovation in public education via parental choice of schools. However, our stalemate here in Steamboat over the Montessori charter points out a gaping loophole in the charter law that has to be closed. The State Board of Education thoroughly reviewed the financial and educational viability and value of our charter application and approved it on final appeal, and yet there is nothing to prevent our district from refusing to follow the law.
There should be an alternative chartering body removed from local politics that could grant and directly fund charter schools at levels similar to local districts.
Q. Steamboat Springs Montessori wants its case heard in Denver and has fought the school district’s efforts to change the venue to Routt County. Why shouldn’t the case be heard here?
A. It could be heard here, however, the attorneys on both sides are based in Denver, so that venue makes the most financial sense in our estimation. Our attorney also feels that since our case hinges on this district’s open defiance of an order of the State Board of Education that was handed down in Denver, the case ought to be heard there in district court.
Q. The Steamboat Springs School Board has voted to place a question on the November ballot to gauge public opinion about the board’s decision to oppose a Montessori charter school. Do you think the ballot question is fair. Why or why not?
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A. No, because it is dishonest. If they were being hones,t they’d ask voters if they agree with the School Board’s decision to break the state charter law and to defy an order from the State Board of Education. The school district did gauge public opinion at the appropriate time, before its October vote, with a series of public forums at which a district-written survey was collected. That survey showed 50 percent of the people at the public forums were in support of the charter school. The school district already knows what public opinion is; it does not need to gauge it again. In reality though, charter schools aren’t matters for a public vote anyway. Strong government does more than just protect the rights of the majority. The charter school act was created to protect the individual rights of families and their children. All this vote does is create more discord within the community and distract from the primary task of educating children.
Q. You have consistently said that Steamboat Springs Montessori is open to negotiating with the school district. What options are there for resolving the lawsuit outside of court?
A. We are willing to set aside this lawsuit immediately if they approve our charter application and agree to sit down and try to work through the details of the contract.
Nearly everything is up for negotiation. We are committed to offering a Montessori program with integrity and a strong chance of long-term success.
We have been trying to talk with the board to try to find solutions but they consistently refuse to even talk with us.
Q. It has been two years since Steamboat Springs Montessori first floated the idea of offering Montessori in the public-school setting. At one point, families representing 100 children had expressed interest in a Montessori program. Has that number changed? Have families become frustrated with the process?
A. There is no doubt that this slow process has frustrated our parents as much as it has us. Many have had to find less-than-ideal alternatives for their preschool and school-age children.
Some are quite happy with their new schools while others are not. We resurveyed the families by phone last February, and except for a handful who have moved out of Steamboat, our interest numbers have remained fairly steady and are now approaching 120.
Q. Presuming Steamboat Springs Montessori prevails in its challenge or the Steamboat Springs School Board changes its stance on a charter school, how quickly can you get a school up and running?
A. The charter school needs to be aligned with other district schools and start in the fall, when the school year starts. We need to have a contact in the spring to be able to open in the fall.
Q. The school district has a new superintendent and is about to elect a new School Board. At least two of the Montessori Charter School’s critics — Tom Sharp and Paul Fisher — are leaving the board. Are you hopeful these changes will have an impact on the relationship between Steamboat Springs Montessori and the school district?
A. We want to be a positive part of this school community, and we are hopeful that the new board will appreciate the great benefits this program offers and not just the greatly exaggerated costs. With an experienced new superintendent and the election of new School Board members, we believe that a new dialogue can be opened about the overwhelming benefits public-school choice will have in Steamboat and the ability of Steamboat Springs Montessori to work with our school district to bring the best possible education to every child.