Montgomery Board of Education member attacks charter school policy
Calls on state to overrule colleagues on two rejected applications
In a repeat of last year, the Board of Education voted down two charter school applications, although it offered an olive branch of sorts an extended deadline to apply again this year.
The board voted 8-0 on Monday evening to reject an application from Crossway Community, a proposal for a pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade school, and also denied Global Garden K-8 International Baccalaureate charter application, 6-2. The board had denied both applications previously, in 2010.
But board member Laura V. Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville argued that the board's rejection of Global Garden was so flawed that the Maryland State Board of Education should exercise its authority to grant the charter over the objections of Montgomery County board members. She was joined in her vote to support Global Garden by Michael A. Durso (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
Board members held the vote in response to the state board, which on Jan. 25 gave the county board three months to reconsider the two applications and provide more detailed explanations of its decisions than those provided last year, when it initially rejected the two applications. Both groups had appealed the 2010 rejections to the state board.
The board did adopt a proposal from board member Philip Kauffman (At large) of Olney to extend the deadline for both applicants from April 1, the normal deadline, to May 1 to allow them to submit revised applications and receive more technical assistance to respond to board concerns.
School official Lori-Christina Webb, who works with charter school applicants, told the school board that Crossway Community already was working with the school system to reapply this year. The school system unveiled a new charter application process this year intended to provide applicants more technical assistance with operational and budgetary matters.
But Global Garden founding members said after the vote that they were uncertain if they would reapply this year.
"Is it worth it, turning ourselves inside out, when the same folks are still sitting there?" said Heidi Mordhorst, an applicant with Global Garden.
The votes to reject the two applications supported a proposal from Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay that called both applications severely flawed, both academically and in terms of their food, transportation and building plans.
Crossway Community, for example, lacked concrete learning goals for its older students, he wrote, while Global Garden relied too much on rote learning.
Board Vice President Shirley Brandman (At large) of Bethesda said she had concerns about keeping taxpayer dollars separate from private nonprofit funding for Crossway Community. Berthiaume, meanwhile, said she doubted Crossway would get a waiver from the state law requiring charter schools to be equally accessible to all students. Crossway had proposed giving preference to potential students who were enrolled in the group's current pre-K program.
Discussing Global Garden's plan for 420 students, Brandman was unsure how performance would be measured and what students would learn, echoing Barclay's concerns that the application's lack of a sufficient curriculum proposal was a "significant flaw."
"I think what was missing was clarity about what would be offered," Brandman said.
In discussing Kauffman's amendment to allow for a later May 1 deadline, Webb and Deputy Superintendent of Schools Frieda K. Lacey countered that school officials already were providing the appropriate amount of guidance to charter applicants.
But in a broad attack on the school system's approach to charters, Berthiaume argued that officials imposed burdens on charter applicants that went well beyond state requirements.
She criticized portions of the policy requiring fiscal impact statements, evaluations from the superintendent and other school staff prior to the school board's vote, and annual oversight with extremely high thresholds for success in terms of parental involvement and meeting student needs.
"I suggest that this is a standard that several of our traditional public schools would most certainly fail to meet on an annual basis, even here in affluent Montgomery County," Berthiaume wrote in a statement.
She also argued that the board did not truly reconsider the application as the state board had requested. Berthiaume also said the state board seemed confused over whether the county board needed to truly reconsider the applications or just create a detailed rationale for why they rejected them last year.
The state board should grant the Global Garden charter and overrule her colleagues, Berthiaume argued, because Maryland law allowed the state board to grant charters where local school boards had acted in an "arbitrary and unreasonable" fashion.
In a petition currently in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Global Garden is seeking a judicial review of the state board's role.