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Politics Stall Frederick Charter

“Protesters show support for school”
By Brian Englar
Frederick News Post
April 2, 2012

Supporters of a proposed charter school took to the streets Sunday to express their anger over a setback they said is the result of a politically motivated decision by school board members.

More than a dozen protesters stood outside the Frederick Public County Schools administrative building on East South Street to show their support for the Frederick Classical Charter School while holding signs that elicited a number of honks from passing motorists.

On Wednesday, the school board voted against Frederick Classical’s facility plans to build in a new location, making it unlikely that the school will open in the fall as founders had hoped.

School President Tom Neumark said the board that same night gave the go-ahead to another charter school, the Carroll Creek Montessori Charter School. Neumark said that group, unlike his school, hadn’t yet submitted a building permit to the board.

“We think that’s completely unfair,” Neumark said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Neumark said board members cited issues with staffing the school in time, but he said Carroll Creek Montessori is dealing with the same issues. He said Frederick Classical already has 233 applicants for 17 teaching positions and 479 prospective students in the lottery to be admitted.

The school’s original proposed location fell through when officials couldn’t get an eight-year charter. They found a new location in Riverside Technology Park off Gas House Pike, but superintendent Terry Alban recommended the board not allow plans to move forward, citing staffing and budget concerns stemming from founders’ aggressive timeline, which would have the building finished by Aug. 1.

Supporters of the school — which will require Latin and take a history-based approach to other areas of study — claim the decision is a political move by board members afraid of both a different approach to education and a potential lessening of the influence of the teacher’s union due to increased parental control.

“They’ve consistently shown a pattern of politically making decisions and showing that they’re rubber stamping anything that the teacher’s union wants them to do,” said Jim Voss, school supporter and former treasurer of the Monocacy Valley Montessori Charter School in Frederick, Maryland’s first charter school.

“They seem to be making decisions based on fear of change. They don’t understand charter schools. They don’t understand what that brings to the community and the choice that it offers.”

Voss said charter schools cost taxpayers less to operate because they must fund their own building and receive less money per student than traditional public schools.

Voss said he believes the reason the board allowed Carroll Creek Montessori to go forward is that members are more familiar with the teaching approach, in which teachers and older students coach pupils to learn on their own in a hands-on environment. He said Monocacy Valley Montessori faced similar opposition when trying to open.

School board member Donna Crook denied any political motives in the vote to not let the school move forward with its plans, claiming she supports the project. But she said she shared Alban’s about staffing, budgeting and location.

Crook also said school founders asked for a five-year charter when a four-year charter has already been approved. She said the school needed to open and demonstrate some success before asking for a longer charter.

“I hope in the end that it all does work out, but as of right now I’m not sure where it stands,” Crook said.

Of the board’s approval of Carroll Creek Montessori’s plans, Crook said, “It’s two completely different charters. We weigh each charter on it’s own merits.”

Holly O’Shea, who sits on the school’s board of directors, said there were significant differences between the Montessori approach and the more rigorous curriculum planned for Frederick Classical.

“I think there’s just a real fear of us succeeding, because we can show that we’ll have success by doing things differently,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea said she believes board members are driven in part by “personal animus,”

School board candidates Tony Chmelik and Pam Ward were among the protesters Sunday. Chmelik said interest in charter schools isn’t necessarily an indictment against the current schools, but a way for parents to be more involved in the educational process.

“Too often people confuse it and say, ‘but our schools aren’t failing, why do we need it,’ but that isn’t the point,” Chmelik said.

Ward said school officials have done everything asked of them in order to open the school, which has already been approved

“They are given a challenge and the charter board has met the challenge, only to have the four members of the board of education vote no,” Ward said.