Montessori school, Montgomery County’s only public charter, plans to close

The only public charter school in Montgomery County will shut down at the end of the school year because it has struggled with its finances and can’t afford to stay open.

The Board of Directors for Crossway Community Inc., which operates Crossway Community Montessori School, voted to terminate its charter, school officials said Wednesday. The Kensington school, the first and only charter to open in Montgomery, has been in operation for two years.

“Despite our best efforts, we could not sustain the school financially as a charter and will move forward to provide services as a private school,” Peter Kirby, the board’s chairman, said in a statement. “We appreciate the support and guidance we received from Montgomery County Public Schools throughout this process and we are committed to serving our students as a charter school for the rest of this academic year.”

The school opened with 65 students in 2012 and expanded to 98 this year.

Kathleen Guinan, chief executive of Crossway Community, said the school, which educates students in mixed-age classrooms of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, has struggled financially for the past year. She largely blamed the school’s troubles on limited public funding; taxpayer funding for free public education in Maryland begins around age 5.

Of the 98 children now at Crossway Community, Guinan said public funds were received for 39 students.

Guinan said Crossway Community was dealing with a “sizable” budget gap, but she would not specify the amount of the deficit. Last year, Guinan said the school needed to raise about $150,000 a year to continue programming for students younger than 5.

“We’ve had a network of generous donors who believe in our model, and we have had a response from some of our parents, but in the end, our operating expenses exceeded the revenue,” she said. “And given the financial model, we found it wasn’t workable.”

Parents said they were upset to learn that the charter is closing but were not surprised, because they were aware of the school’s money troubles.

“I was sad, but I suppose I wasn’t totally shocked,” said Serena Cherry, a Silver Spring parent of two children at the Montessori school. “I really, really loved the school.”

Cherry said she wanted her children to attend a Montessori school but that private school tuition was out of reach. “It sounded like it was too good to be true,” Cherry said. “And I guess it was.”

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the county school system, said Crossway Community’s closure does not mean that charters are not a viable option in Montgomery.

“We will honor every charter school application on its merit,” Tofig said. “The issues facing this charter were unique to how it was structured.”

Tofig said Crossway Community officials indicated in their initial application that the school would raise private donations to sustain its budget, “and that is where they are having an issue.”

Crossway Community tried to open a school in the District last year, but the D.C. Public Charter School Board rejected its application because school officials could not adequately describe how its program would work in the city.

In a written statement, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said the school system will work to ensure a smooth transition for students who move to neighborhood public schools next year.

“We know this was a difficult decision for the Board of Directors and we will work with the charter school to facilitate the transition for students and their families,” Starr said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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