2021 | Schools

MCPS favors one charter school application, opposes second one

Concerns raised about funding, interest

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The Montgomery County Board of Education met on Tuesday in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Montgomery County Public Schools officials are recommending conditional approval for a proposed business-focused charter school.

But MCPS opposes an application for single-gender programs.

In a rare occurrence in Montgomery County, the school board on Tuesday reviewed two applications for new charter schools, which, if approved, would be among the first ever in the county.

The board did not make any decisions on Tuesday. Rather, it heard presentations from MCPS staff members and the applicants. Final action is scheduled for July 15.

School board members cautioned the public not to rule out the possibility of a charter school in Montgomery County without learning more about the proposals.

Board member Pat O’Neill said some community members wrote in opposing any charters, regardless of their purpose.

“Everyone is entitled to express opinions, but for people to express those opinions without having any knowledge base is really irresponsible,” O’Neill said.

The board, however, seemed open to one concept — a college preparatory and vocational school for students interested in business.

The proposal was for the Mentoring by Example College & Career Academy Business Learning Institute, which would be in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring area.

The idea would be to first begin with about 100 students in both sixth and seventh grades, then expand annually with one new grade until the school served students through twelfth grade.

M.E.C.C.A. has received a $1 million start-up grant from the Maryland State Department of Education to help open and begin operations.

But MCPS leaders expressed concern on Tuesday that the charter school could maintain adequate funding long-term.

About 60% of the school’s funding is expected to come from a per-pupil allocation from MCPS. The remaining 40% of the budget would be from grants, private fundraising or other means, according to Lachaundra Graham, head of the design team for the school.

The only charter school — a Montessori-based elementary school — that has received approval from the Montgomery County Board of Education closed after about one year because it could not maintain a reliable funding stream, according to district officials.

MCPS also wants M.E.C.C.A. leaders to prove there is enough interest in the community to support the school. Part of the concern stemmed from documents that originally showed the school did not intend to provide bus transportation to all students.

But Graham said on Tuesday that transportation will be provided either through MCPS or a contracted company.

She also said that 514 people have signed an online petition in support of the school. Fifty-two people have applied to preliminary job postings for the school.

MCPS leaders recommended that the school board grant a conditional approval to the charter school at the July 15 meeting, but require that school leaders come back in three months with more information about its funding plan and community interest.

The second proposed charter school calls for single-gender programs for elementary school students.

In its application, the Washington-McLaughlin School for Boys and Washington-McLaughlin School for Girls wrote that dividing students by gender allows them to be more “comfortable” and accommodates the different ways in which their brains develop.

Single-gender schooling can help by creating “boy-friendly” and “girl-friendly” environments, the application said, and “by removing the distraction when … puberty sends the hormones into overdrive.”

MCPS raised a lengthy list of concerns about the proposal, alleging it didn’t provide “clear” funding plans, location plans or proof of community interest, all of which founder Paulina Washington disputed.

School board member Karla Silvestre asked about the school’s proposed approach to funding. No one else on the board asked questions or spoke about the proposal on Tuesday.

The staff recommended the school board deny the application when it meets on July 15.
If either application is approved, the schools would open in September 2022.