School Board wants more figures for Montessori

Members want charter school to show balance of revenues, expenses

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Juneau School Board on Tuesday put off deciding whether to grant charter-school status to the Montessori program.

Before voting on April 4, several members want to see a budget that balances Montessori revenues and expenses - and which won't cost the district money.

"That is the only way you're going to get my vote," School Board President Mary Becker said.

Other members said the application should be judged on a projected budget several years into the future, when the school might have more students and generate more funds.

Three of the seven School Board members support the charter for the proposed Montessori Borealis School. Speaking favorably of it were Bill Peters, Rhonda Befort and Julie Morris.

The charter school would serve students from kindergarten through grade eight, including some who aren't now enrolled in district schools. The district currently offers three elementary-age classrooms for Montessori students.

The big question Tuesday was whether the charter school would cost the district money.

School Board member Bob Van Slyke said Montessori Borealis would cost the district "a substantial amount of money," which would penalize other students in the district.

The charter application comes as the district is considering about $300,000 in budget cuts.

Montessori students now bring to the district more state and city money than the program costs in teacher wages and materials. As a charter, nearly all of those state and city funds would go to the new school, including about $90,000 intended for special-education and other programs.

At the same time, the district would pick up the roughly $80,000 cost of providing special-education services to the charter school. In effect, it's a $170,000 loss to the district, said Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

On the other hand, the charter would bring new students to the district, thus raising the maximum amount of money the city can give the schools. The district doesn't turn over those extra funds to charter schools.

And if the charter school grew sufficiently, it could take over its own special-education expenses, Cowan said.

Some board members were willing to approve a charter school, even if it costs the district money at first, and see if the program would grow.

"I don't support status quo, but I do support smaller learning communities," Peters said. "I recognize it's a cost to the district."

Some School Board members also repeated concerns that the Montessori program doesn't have a mix of students by ethnicity and income that matches the district's diversity.

Proponents of the charter school have said they will abide by any terms the district sets for admissions.

"We have adhered to all the recommendations the board has asked and will continue to do so," said Montessori spokesman Fred Weiler.

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



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