Charter school back on the table

District leaders, organizers meet; board member hopeful of resolution

The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school board could be shifting its stance on a proposed charter school.

District leaders met with charter school organizers for more than three hours last week. Superintendent Alex Carter said four major concerns remain: the financial impacts to the district, community perception of an elite school for only a few, how the charter school would be governed, and the duplication of services.

"We're all fighting for the same thing," Carter said. "We all want to give our kids a quality education."

At the school board meeting Tuesday evening, Carter said the district's attorney would prepare three resolutions for the board to consider at their Feb. 25 meeting. Those resolutions include denying the charter school application again, approving the application or approving the application with stipulations.

In December, school board members voted unanimously to deny the application for the proposed Children's Kiva Montessori Charter School. At that meeting, board member Pete Montano indicated that the charter school would further reduce an already thin district budget. On Tuesday, however, Montano indicated he might be shifting his position.

"I am part of a fundraising group for the charter school," Montano said. "I believe there's a reasonable chance the issues will be resolved."

Children's Kiva Montesorri Charter School organizers are planning to open next fall and initially offer instruction for grades K-6, said Anna Cole, a Kiva board member spearheading the charter school effort.

"We received helpful feedback from the board on Tuesday," said Cole, who has a doctoral degree in education. "The meeting was constructive, collaborative and created some viable resolutions to concerns."

Cole said its important to recognize that a majority of stakeholders - all of the charter founding committee members and all the Re-1 school board members - are volunteers, deeply committed to cultivating viable educational opportunities for students.

"It is a massive effort from both parties, and we are identifying solutions that will work for everyone," she said.

After last year's application denial, charter school officials hired their own attorney, Bill Bethke of Denver. He was also pleased that school district leaders appeared open to the charter school idea.

"We had a very productive meeting," he said. "We made a lot of progress."

Montessori instruction uses a more hands-on collaborative approach to education that focuses on academics, combined with community participation, self-reliance, individual choice, and mixed-grades settings where older students assist younger students. Charters must comply with academic and testing standards of the Colorado Department of Education.

"Charter schools have more flexibility in their curriculum than traditional schools, and it gives parents a choice," said Cole. "It is where Colorado is heading."

Under Cole's leadership, the charter school has already been awarded a $560,000 grant for start-up costs by the Colorado Charter School Program, but it is contingent on being authorized to operate.

If the school board rejects the application for a second time, Cole said charter school organizers would appeal to the state board of education. She's hopeful local officials, instead, approve the measure in order to move forward with contract negotiations.

"We remain committed to working collaboratively with the Re-1 district to open our doors in August of 2014," Cole proclaimed.