Montgomery school system, county raise questions about charter school’s fundraising -- Gazette.Net







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As Community Montessori Charter School heads into its second school year, some county and school system officials are concerned about fundraising efforts to complement Montgomery County Public School funds in the school’s budget.

As of July 26, Crossway Community — the nonprofit that operates the county’s only charter school — was continuing to raise the roughly $150,000 needed to complement about $66,000 the school system contributed to the 2012-2013 school year budget, according to Kathleen Guinan, the nonprofit’s CEO.

The nonprofit has no deadline to come up with the funds, said Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer.

The organization will need to raise a similar amount of money for the 2013-2014 school year budget, Bowers said.

Guinan said at a July 22 meeting with the County Council’s Education Committee that the school has the support of “highly reliable sources” in the county to help it raise the funds it needs.

“We have consulted with these sources and have every confidence we will be able to meet our financial obligations,” Guinan said.

So far, she said in late July, the school’s sources had included parent contributions, grants and fundraisers. Guinan has not been reached for further comment since a July 26 interview.

Yet Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said at the meeting she had heard from parents who are “feeling a lot of pressure” when it comes to fundraising.

“I’m just getting a sense of the enormity of the burden that this puts on the families that have to then raise the money to keep you guys going — that’s my concern,” said Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park.

Bowers said the school system knew when it approved the school’s application that securing the private funds would be a challenge but that the nonprofit had committed to getting the money.

Asked by Ervin what happens when the school is unable to bridge the gap, Bowers answered, “the board of education has not had that conversation.”

Bowers said later in an interview he is “concerned” about the school’s ability to raise the funds it needs to fill the gap the school system does not pay for.

The Board of Education and Superintendent Joshua P. Starr will need to sit down and talk about the “sustainability of the model,” Bowers said.

Ervin said in an interview that there were plans for her to sit down with Starr and school board members sometime in September to discuss issues that came up during the meeting as well as others.

The school’s ability to fill the funding gap is “clearly a problem,” she said.

“For the conversation to take place after the charter has opened, leaves a lot of questions,” Ervin said.

The school system does not cover all of the charter school’s expenses.

The school does not receive any school system funds for its 3-year-old students and receives funds only for some of its 4-year-olds who are income eligible.

During its first year, the school’s student body consisted of roughly 70 children ages 3 and 4, and about 104 students ages 3, 4 and 5 will attend the school this upcoming academic year.

Guinan said during the meeting that the school is working to recruit more 4-year-olds who are income eligible and who the school system would pay for.

Essie McGuire, a senior legislative analyst for the county, said limitations on public funding for the school’s younger students is a challenge of the model that will continue even as the school’s body grows to include more, older students.

“The proportion will change, but that will be the gap going forward,” she said.

Ervin remained optimistic.

“I think what charters are good for is they’re like almost experiments for us,” she said. “They’re a good learning laboratory.”