District relieved, will explore in-house program
By J.M. BROWN – Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ – A group of Montessori parents who had proposed opening a public charter school next year decided Tuesday to work with Santa Cruz City Schools to create an in-house program and avoid a battle over scarce state funding.

Whitney Smith, spokeswoman for the proposed Maria Montessori Charter School for elementary-aged students, said parents who gathered Tuesday to discuss the district’s recent suggestion to work together reached consensus not to submit a charter request at this time. Rather, they will meet with district officials in coming weeks to talk in greater detail about how a joint program could be developed.

“Our dream was never to run a charter school; it was to have a public Montessori school,” Smith said. “If the school district is willing to step up and embrace that, we’re in.”

Cynthia Hawthorne, a trustee for the district who along with Superintendent Gary Bloom has been in talks with Montessori parents, said, “This is such great news. We’re very pleased they are willing to collaborate with us.”

The tentative agreement brought a sigh of relief for both the district and Montessori parents.

The district faced approving the charter and retaining some control over it or denying the request and having it approved on appeal to the county Office of Education. In the latter case, the district would lose all of the nearly $6,000 in annual state funding for each student who would have attended the school.

The loss – which would have grown each year as the Montessori school increased from 60 students to a goal of around 100 – would come at a time when the district is gearing up a campaign to renew $2 million in annual parcel taxes that fund music, library and arts programs.

Had they submitted their request, the Montessori parents faced tough negotiations with Hawthorne and other district officials who are veterans at doing battle with Pacific Collegiate School, a charter the district denied in the late 1990s but later approved by the county education board. The district has long challenged PCS’ fundraising and diversity, issues public school parents were already raising about the Montessori program.

Smith said Montessori parents, unhappy with the prospect of private school tuition, would like to see two district classrooms featuring Montessori-trained teachers as early as next fall, but understand the superintendent and board have to undertake a process to create it. The parents could always revive their petition if they are unsatisfied with the district’s eventual offer.