Ross Montessori postpones building plans
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Ross Montessori School will have to wait until next year to try again to obtain a state grant for a new school building.
In the meantime, the public charter school based in Carbondale is continuing its capital campaign to raise local funds aimed at eventually securing a new facility. The school is currently located in a group of modular buildings on leased space at the north end of Fourth Street.
The 245-student, K-8 school operates under the Colorado Charter School Institute. It was awarded a $6.6 million Colorado Department of Education Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant in August.
However, the grant award came with a requirement that the school raise $5.2 million locally to reach its $11.4 million funding goal to buy land and build a school.
“We realized that raising $5.2 million was a huge task, and not one that was likely to be accomplished in the time frame we were given,” said Tami Cassetty, vice president of the RMS board. “So we withdrew our application.”
The school was initially told it would have until this month to raise the extra funds, but then was told it had to have the funding commitment by Nov. 2.
“We managed to raise $450,000 in pledges between August and October, which was huge,” Cassetty said. “But it was nowhere near the requirement.”
The matching fund dilemma is one shared by other state charter schools. Unlike public school districts and charter schools sponsored by local school districts, state charters do not have the option of going to local voters for tax dollars.
Several school districts across the state had BEST matching fund questions on the Nov. 1 ballot. Out of 11 such questions, six passed and five failed, according to a summary of ballot initiatives obtained from the Colorado School Finance Project.
Instead of going to local voters, state charters must rely on private donations and other grants for those matching funds.
Cassetty said the state education department grants committee is revisiting the funding matrix for charter schools. It may be possible for Ross to re-apply for the BEST grant under new rules next year.
“Right now, we are looking at a lot of alternative options,” she said. “We still need to get into a better, long-term facility than we are in now.”
The school may opt to buy an existing building somewhere and renovate it to serve the school’s needs.
“We could also look at a smaller, more phased-in type of project,” Cassetty said. “We’re definitely moving forward with the capital campaign, because we need a new building regardless.”
Ross Montessori is hoping to boost its capital campaign to at least $1 million next year, she said.
Operating a school in modular buildings has its challenges, first-year Ross Montessori School Principal Sonya Hemmen said.
“But we’re doing it,” she said. “We have a really motivated group of parents and a strong educational approach for our students. But we do need a sustainable and educationally sound facility to be able to continue what we offer.”
Ross Montessori was chartered in 2005 under the Colorado Charter School Institute, and named for the late Mark Ross, co-founder of Carbondale’s Mount Sopris Montessori preschool. The preschool continues to operate as a separate nonprofit organization.
The BEST grant program was created by the Colorado Legislature in 2008 to provide extra financial assistance to public school districts and charter schools for capital construction projects.
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