- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

Parents at Maryland’s only charter school are taking legal action to force the Frederick County Board of Education to give the school the same funding as public schools.

“I don’t feel like they’re dealing in good faith with the school,” said Eric Slocum-Schaffer, whose child attends the Monocacy Valley Montessori charter school. “We just finally got so fed up.”

Mr. Slocum-Schaffer, a lawyer, filed the suit with his wife, Stephanie, in Frederick County Circuit Court.

Mrs. Slocum-Schaffer is a political science professor at Shepherd College in West Virginia whose doctoral dissertation was about school choice.

The legal battle focuses on the interpretation the word “commensurate” in the 2003 Maryland charter-school law. The law says local school boards must provide charter school funding “commensurate” with what public schools receive.

Monocacy Valley receives $6,112 per pupil a year, said Jim Voss, treasurer for Monocacy Montessori Communities Inc., the nonprofit organization that holds the charter. By comparison, public schools receive $8,411 per pupil. The school board is charging the charter school for administrative services and not giving it money for facility costs, cutting into the per-pupil allocation, the Slocum-Schaffers say.

Though “commensurate” is not defined in the 2003 state law allowing charter schools, charter advocates say the meaning of the word is simple.

“After sitting and listening to the legislators as they worked on the bill, my understanding is that commensurate would mean the same amount spent to educate a student at a traditional school would follow the student to a charter school,” said Joni Berman, president of the Maryland Charter School Network.

The school board asked the court March 18 to dismiss the suit, arguing that the parents should have complained first to the state Board of Education.

Monocacy Valley Montessori administrators are not involved in the legal action and say they prefer a “mending fences” approach.

Frederick County schools officials were off yesterday in observance of Good Friday, and state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick could not be reached for comment.

Mrs. Berman said the funding issue hurts the 16 other charter schools preparing to open around the state and that it also endangers the success of Monocacy Valley.

“Other districts are looking to Frederick as the model, and the Frederick model is not necessarily commensurate,” she said.

“I’m concerned that it jeopardizes the charter because they’re going to say it’s not financially sound. But it’s hard to be financially sound when you don’t get commensurate funding.”

Maryland public school systems have been hesitant to approve charter schools since Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, signed the charter school bill into law. School board members have said one problem is that they do not understand the law. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and charter school advocates have pushed for a more specific law.

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