A proposal to move the popular Montessori program from Hotchkiss to Crawford appears to be gaining momentum. At the first of two informational meetings, parents had questions about how two "Schools of Distinction" could be successfully merged.
Before the second informational meeting was convened last week, parents and community members had the opportunity to visit both schools. Parents at the second meeting, which was held in Hotchkiss Oct. 23, said they were pleased to see children in both schools doing very similar things. "It seems the kids would transition very smoothly," one mother said.
Crawford parents strongly support keeping the community school viable by adding Montessori students. They also like that small class sizes and strong relationships among students, teachers and parents would be maintained. Montessori parents are impressed with the additional space they'd gain by moving to Crawford. The gym and cafeteria were specifically mentioned. The Montessori board of stewards presented a formal statement saying they look forward to high quality Montessori education for the children and parents of the North Fork Valley as a school of innovation.
"This is something we can do," said a Montessori teacher. "We can be a big happy school."
Although most members of the audience agreed, assistant superintendent Kurt Clay had some words of caution concerning enrollment.
He opened the meeting by presenting the results of a survey that projects enrollment of 97 students, nearly 68 percent of the preschool-sixth grade students currently attending either Crawford or North Fork Montessori School. About 25 percent of those students plan to find other options. One Crawford family said they prefer homeschooling to the Montessori curriculum; other parents said they would rather send their children to either Hotchkiss or Paonia elementary. Montessori parents who objected to the proposal cited location as the biggest obstacle.
Clay said 97 is a good start, but falls short of the number of students needed to create a financially viable school, especially when the preschool students are taken out of the equation. He went through the numbers for K-6 enrollment, starting with a scenario in which all 128 Crawford-Montessori students stay the course. Per-pupil funding districtwide is $6,096. With 128 students, the cost per student (staff, maintenance, utilities) breaks down to $5,051, leaving $1,274 to pay for transportation, special education and kitchen staff.
With enrollment of 100, the cost jumps to $5,768 per student. There's not much left for support services, including district administration. "That's the break-even point for us," Clay said.
At the current level of support, and taking preschoolers out of the picture, enrollment is projected at just 88 students. While administrators recognize the school has the potential to grow, Clay said they want to be able to move forward with confidence that this discussion won't come up again in another couple of years.
"One of the things we don't want to happen is we start out at 85, 88 students and go down to 75, because we all know we'll be right back in the same boat and we've lost two great programs," Clay said.
Crawford's current enrollment of 61 equates to a per-pupil cost of $7,228. As a contract school, North Fork Montessori School is funded at a different level and has been able to obtain grants to assist with operating costs. Without those grants, Clay said, long-term sustainability is questionable. It's unfortunate that dollars are driving the proposal to combine the two schools, he said, but the school district has a responsibility to be fiscally responsible to taxpayers throughout the county. Combining schools would save $150,000 to $190,000 annually. Closing the Crawford School would save the district $450,000.
A couple of parents insisted an option for seventh and eighth grade students would bump up enrollment, but Clay said the numbers don't add up. The survey identified just seven potential middle schoolers. Paying an additional teacher for those seven students is not feasible. Clay did say district administration would consider adding seventh-eighth grade to the curriculum after the transition has been successfully made.
That promise didn't mollify one father, who said creating the contract for the school of innovation will be such a detailed, intensive process it must also include language for a middle school, which in Montessori is grades seven-nine. "I fear if it's not written into the plan, it will never happen," he said.
The contract with the Delta County Board of Education approving the school of innovation will likely run for three years, giving the school some time to prove itself. Clay agreed there should be some wording that guarantees a Montessori option if the school of innovation doesn't work out.
The next step, he said, is to survey staff and families on Montessori's waiting list. In November, one and possibly two new members will be elected to the board of education, which has the final say. "In December we need to be making a decision," Clay said.blog comments powered by Disqus