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School board hears pitch for Montessori charter school, ratifies raise

By From page A5 | April 09, 2014

The Davis school board heard supporters of the proposed Montessori Charter School of Davis make their case during a public hearing Monday. It was the first phase in a process that will lead to a vote in early May on the charter’s fate.

Also Monday, the board also voted to formally ratify contracts with the Davis Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association, giving the employees represented by those bargaining units a 2-percent raise. It marks the first time their base salaries have been increased since the state budget crisis began impacting the Davis school district’s budget in 2007.

In addition, the board heard from DTA President Blair Howard that the teachers will conclude their vote on Friday, selecting between two different calendar options for the 2014-15 academic year. Both options being considered already have been declared acceptable by the school board. The DTA choice will come back to trustees on April 17 for formal approval.

The public hearing on the Montessori charter petition was the opening item on the action agenda, and the school’s advocates expressed their gratitude for being allowed to go first “so that we can still get our kids to bed at a reasonable hour,” as Katherine Florey put it.

Florey, a member of the law school faculty at UC Davis, told the trustees that “our family has had a wonderful experience with Montessori” but added that, “unfortunately, we are way down on the waiting list” for the district’s existing Montessori program at Birch Lane Elementary, which has been in operation for more than a decade.

A Montessori charter school, Florey said, “would be a wonderful addition” to the educational options currently available in the Davis schools.

Six-year-old Genevieve Hunt, Florey’s daughter, charmed the trustees with her brief remarks, saying she is a Montessori kindergartner and would like to attend a first-grade Montessori class in Davis.

Dave Miller, a parent who recently participated in the school district’s strategic planning process, sounded a note of caution, saying that while “parent choice is nice,” the growing enrollment in special programs such as Montessori has had a negative impact on the neighborhood school programs in the district.

Jonathan Feagle, executive director of the proposed charter school and a local parent, and Charlene Schmid, formerly a teacher at North Davis Elementary, now working for the California Department of Education, described several aspects of the proposed charter school. The school hopes to launch this fall with an enrollment of about 120 students, spread over transitional kindergarten through second grade, with classes being held year-round.

Schmid said charter advocates are not asking to move into Davis school district facilities this year. Feagle and Schmid said the group is interested in a South Davis location and had looked at the former Merryhill School site but felt a lease there would be too costly. A West Davis location also might be a possibility, they said, adding that they don’t want to locate close to the existing district-sponsored Montessori program at Birch Lane Elementary School.

Feagle said a significant percentage of the students who would attend the proposed charter school likely would come from out of town — mostly the children of parents who have jobs in Davis but live in nearby communities.

Schmid said the school would include an accredited Montessori teacher training program, and added that its presence would benefit the Birch Lane program by enhancing the teacher pool in the area.

Feagle said he had spoken with leaders of the Davis Teachers Association and added that “we recognize and encourage the right of employees to organize for collective bargaining.” He acknowledged that the proposed Montessori charter would launch with an average teacher salary somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 — lower than the average teacher salary for the Davis school district, which is somewhat higher than $60,000.

“You have some very seasoned teachers (in the Davis district),” Schmid observed. “The community has been blessed with many years of experience, which is going to take you up that scale.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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