As vote nears on Montessori (Instrumentality) charter school, questions remain on cost, staffing

Doug Erickson:

The Madison School Board is poised to vote Monday on whether to create its first public Montessori charter school, a decision that appears to hinge on the level of risk board members are willing to accept.

The district’s charter review committee says it cannot recommend approval of the proposal from Isthmus Montessori Academy because the plan falls short in key areas. But the board could decide the shortcomings are fixable and not major enough to derail the effort.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has raised another possibility. If board members want to go forward with the proposal, she is recommending that implementation be delayed until the 2018-19 school year. That would provide more time to address remaining issues.

Melissa Droessler, a co-founder of the Montessori school, said delaying implementation by a year would be disappointing but not a deal-breaker, as long as the district kept negotiating in good faith.

Isthmus Montessori Academy (IMA), 1402 Pankratz St., is a private, nonprofit school founded in 2012 that wants to become part of the district. It is attempting to do that through the district’s charter application process, which was revised last year to be more rigorous.

Under the new process, if an applicant receives a “fails to meet expectations” rating in even one of 15 areas, the district’s charter review committee will not recommend it. The IMA proposal fails to meet the district’s expectations in four areas, including in its approach to budgeting, staffing and measuring academic growth.

However, School Board President James Howard questioned the rubric used by the district to evaluate applications, saying it “seems to be subjective” and that perhaps the threshold is too high.

Related: a majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School.