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Montessori charter could affect district's finances

Classrooms may be difficult to find in district; student diversity hard to achieve for several years

Posted: Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Montessori charter school could cost the Juneau School District about $100,000 in its first year, district administrators say.

Furthermore, it may be hard to find enough classrooms for the charter school in district buildings, Juneau School Board members heard at a work session Tuesday.

And it could be several years before the charter school would have a student body that matched the district's diversity of ethnicities and income levels, administrators said.

School Board members said Tuesday that they are not ready to vote on a charter-school application submitted by parents and teachers at local Montessori programs.

The board wants to know whether an elementary school is willing to house the charter school. A staff survey is now being conducted.

Fred Weiler, spokesman for the Montessori applicants, said the School Board's concerns about finances and location are legitimate.

The applicants strongly support the findings of a district task force on how to increase diversity in programs such as Montessori, he said.

"I thought it was a positive work session, that the board is asking good questions," Weiler said.

The proposed Montessori Borealis school would combine a current private preschool, elementary-age classrooms in the district, and an adolescent program downtown that is in another district's home-school program.

Montessori proponents expect to enroll 113 students from kindergarten through grade nine in the first year.

Charter schools are publicly funded but are governed by parents and educators.

School Board members continue to wrestle with the questions of financing, diversity, location and philosophy.

"We get to the point we provide all things to all people, we get to the point we provide no things to no people," said School Board member Bob Van Slyke.

The charter school could cost the district money, mainly in providing special-education services. Montessori Borealis hasn't budgeted to provide those services.

The district now supplies about $80,000 in special-education services to the current Montessori classrooms at Harborview and Glacier Valley elementary schools, said Linda Maloney, the district's director of student services.

If the Montessori charter is approved, the district will bear "a good deal of cost," Van Slyke said.

School Board members also pointed out that it would be hard to find enough classrooms in the district for the charter school.

The Montessori applicants want to rent three classrooms in the first year, and eventually rent several others, all in one building.

School Board members also noted that it might take several years for the charter school to meet the district's diversity goals.

That's because the school, like other charter schools in the state, would give preference to current students in filling the following year's seats. And it might give a preference in new applicants to siblings of current students. That wouldn't leave many openings for other new applicants.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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