School Board Forum

A forum with the four school board candidates was held Thursday night at Monocacy Valley Montessori Charter School on charter school-related issues. Shown from left are Michael Bunitsky, Ken Kerr, Cindy Rose and Joy Schaefer.

Frederick County school board candidates were asked on Thursday to explain their positions on charter schools, joining a national conversation fueled locally as the county’s charter schools seek expansion and more funding.

Thursday’s forum was sponsored by Monocacy Montessori Communities Inc., or MMCI, the nonprofit that manages two county charter schools. It was one of the final opportunities for all four Frederick County Board of Education candidates to speak on the same stage before the Nov. 8 election.

Three seats are open on the school board. The candidates are incumbent Joy Schaefer, retired Frederick County Public Schools administrator Mike Bunitsky, Frederick Community College professor Ken Kerr, and parent and vocal school system critic Cindy Rose.

Charter schools are public schools where parents elect to send their children.

Charter schools are typically more innovative and nontraditional than a typical public school. They must meet the educational services outlined in their contract, or charter. In Maryland, local school boards approve charter schools.

Candidates on Thursday addressed more than just how they would support charter schools and open communication between the county’s three charter schools and the district leadership, although several questions centered on those or related topics.

Two of the county’s schools are Montessori-focused and run by MMCI, Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School and Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School, where the forum was held. The third is Frederick Classical Charter School.

Responding to the question of whether charter schools benefit Frederick County, the candidates all answered yes, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Rose emphasized that she was a major charter advocate. She expressed confusion why students at charters were not provided the full per-pupil amount, and pledged to reverse this.

Throughout the night, Rose injected into her answers her vision of education controlled locally, free of virtually any outside government or corporate influence.

Charter schools do not receive the same level of funding because they get in-kind services from the district.

Bunitsky, meanwhile, said he supported the existence of charter schools, but added that he was not their biggest cheerleader. He said he would have liked to have seen Montessori education woven into elementary schools throughout the county.

Bunitsky said startup costs for charter schools have historically been a major roadblock to their existence, particularly during the Great Recession.

Kerr and Schaefer gave similar answers — that charter schools, when they meet the letter of their contract and were done correctly, are another great offering of the county’s public school system.

All of the candidates said they supported improving communication between the school system and the charter schools through different methods.

A director at the central office who would speak with and handle charter school matters would be beneficial, Bunitsky said. He also suggested having a committee to be a liaison for the charter schools.

Rose didn’t specify a new way to talk to the charter schools, but said she supported the concept.

Drawing on his experience at FCC, Kerr referred to regular meetings the school district schedules with the college, and said that model could be replicated. The relationship between charter schools and the district could be “the envy of the state,” much like the connection between the district and FCC, he said.

When the moderator asked candidates to define their priorities, their differences were more stark.

Regarding the controversial Common Core Standards and the associated testing regimen, Rose said that the local board could reject the state and federal directives. Kerr called the testing burdensome and intrusive, but said the best avenue was to advocate changes in legislation, which he would be willing to do.

Both Bunitsky and Schaefer spoke of their desire to reduce class sizes.

They, along with Kerr, have formed a “collaborative campaign.” The three are not a slate, but share funding and campaign literature.

Reducing class size will help teachers work with individual students and ensure each gets the proper attention, like the socially awkward child or the student who hasn’t mastered English, Bunitsky said.

In addition to the class size issue, Schaefer spoke of wanting to fully fund a new teacher salary scale that would lift the starting and middle-year teacher salaries.

School board members are nonpartisan positions and earn $10,000 a year. The school board president earns $11,000 annually.

For more information about the candidates, listen to The Frederick News-Post’s podcast interviews with them at www.fnppodcasts.com/politics.

Follow Jeremy Bauer-Wolf on Twitter: @jbeowulf

(19) comments

MMFNP

I am opposed to charter schools getting any of my tax dollars so long as public schools are over crowded, teachers under paid managing too many students. And when does common sense planning better estimate the numbers of students schools can expect or did they use the same estimates for the Monacacy Blvd project, millions over budget?!!

Tuffy1992

Charter school issues aside, I am so glad to see that Bunitsky, Schaefer, and Kerr are pushing for lower class sizes. We need to work on this to reverse the dreadful decision in last year's budget to increase class sizes. Teachers cannot possibly teach to each child's potential with class sizes as high as 29 in our elementary school. Let's value our teachers and our students by making this a priority as we elect our new board members.

DickD

Why wouldn't charter schools be better? They get to accept or deny applications, do not have to take the handicap and mentally challenged, only get those children of parents able to give or provide transportation to their schools - allowing them to avoid children of single parents and anyone acting up gets dismissed from the school. Now, just apply that to the regular public schools and see if there is any real difference.

Full tuition for charter schools? Rose wants to give them money for busing, which they do not provide. Rose wants to give them money for cafeterias and workers, which they do not provide and Rose wants the full allowance that does not all go to the regular public schools as some is spent as part of the overall maintenance, staffing, regulation, etc. All of which Rose is against.

frederickdad

Rose doesn't want those things... that goes against her advocacy of a child in Special education. Her puppet masters in the GOP - Blaine, Kirby, Billy, Hogan...wont those things so she goes along with them. Do not vote this person in...with her and Colleen on the BOE together, the GOP will gain more power of the school system. You like the wacko book burning school board members in places like Kansas or Texas??? well then you will love Rose. single issue candidates with no education background whatsoever with an axe to grind have NO business controlling the education of others!!

mikeswan1200

There is no application to public charter schools. There is no denying handicap or mentally challenged. These are public schools where students are chosen through a lottery. You are 100% wrong...these arguements only apply to private schools. The transportation issue is valid. I believe FCCS is looking into transportation solutions. I certainly hope FCPS would then provide the funding if FCCS can reasonably provide transportation for in-need students.

ReadPhred

The minute you use "choose students" through a lottery or otherwise, you've taken it out of the public school system. Now you have a closed system that excludes some children. And the reasons for that are often not in the public or society's best interests but in the perceived best interest of a select few.

mikeswan1200

OMG...these are PUBLIC Charter schools. There is no "choosing students". Your argument is completely invalid, just like the bulk of DickD's argument. Please educate yourself on how the FCPS PUBLIC charter school system ACTUALLY works. I'm so sick or reading these ignorant comments about "public money going towards private education" or "elitist parents segregating their children". Enough.

phydeaux994

"choose students" is not exactly correct. Students apply to the Charter School of their choice and enter a lottery where they are picked by the luck of the draw. There are no physical or academic criteria involved. ANY public school student is eligible.

public-redux

With respect to transportation, I don't see a solution that wouldn't then open the door to providing even more transportation services to students in the traditional public schools. For example, should FCPS provide transport to every student outside of Urbana who goes to the IB program at Urbana HS? That situation seems like the closest analog to students who go to a charter school.

And obviously it isn't just the IB program. Most of the HS have special programs that might attract students who aren't in the catchment area of a given HS.

I like the idea school choice. My kids went to an out-of-district HS; FCPS didn't provide transportation. And it wouldn't have a been a good use of public money if they had.

mikeswan1200

This is a reasonable comment (Dick D and ReadPred...please take note.). Agreed...the logistics, cost, fairness to other programs come into question. Likely why it hasn't been implemented.

public-redux

"Rose ... expressed confusion why students at charters were not provided the full per-pupil amount..."

If Rose is confused by something so simple, it doesn't bode well for her understanding more complex issues.

bropp1

There have been multiple lawsuits across the State on Charter School Funding with differing results by highly educated judges. Apparently your desire to trash Cindy Rose has clouded your ability to understand how complex the issue truly is.

ReadPhred

Ms. Rose has done a good job showing us trash herself. As well as particularly foul language. Another person, who every time they are challenged on anything, they lash out hurling insults and bigotry.

public-redux

Just out of curiosity, did any of those differing results include exempting charter schools from paying for common district expenses? You know, things like superintendents and transportation. I want charter schools to get every dollar they should. But not more. The "full per-pupil amount" is unfair to everyone else. If Rose is confused by that, she shouldn't be elected.

Now would you point out where I trashed her?

ReadPhred

That's because she wants the full pupil amount plus in-kind services. In other words, Charters would get more than public schools per student.

mikeswan1200

FCPS can justify it any way they want, but at the end of the day, Frederick County Classical Charter school students only get 68% of the per pupil allocation that other FCPS students get. I assume the other charter schools are at a similar disadvantage. Some of that may be reasonable. But, the school also has to afford rent, facility maintenance, facility improvements (capital costs) out of that funding as well...while other FCPS schools have a separate budget for these items. Some years the actually operating PPA is closer to 50%. There should be fairer way to treat children learning under a different style of education. The flip side of that argument is how well these schools have done with much less funding. It somewhat begs the question on whether the charter school system should expand to address the constant budget/teacher salary shortfalls in FCPS.

ehpercy

Here is something that will shock you, a vast majority of students do not get the Per Pupil Average. Maybe it is something that they are not teaching but the Per Pupil Average is the total budget/total students. That is the huge fallacy that the Classical Charter folks have been pushing for years that they are getting less than their fair share. The Per Pupil Average is far higher than the median, which is much closer to the figure that the Charters are getting, and for the rest of the students in the County includes transportation. Quit asking for more than what is going to my child.

public-redux

With respect to facilities, FCPS as a whole is around 90% of capacity (yes, I know some schools are over-subscribed). So expending more resources on infrastructure seems wasteful. If there is a way of accommodating a charter school within existing facilities, that could be a good solution. Don't know if that is possible. Maybe Lincoln Elementary A?

mikeswan1200

Ehpercy (below)...Not asking for more than your child, but I guarantee my children are currently getting less. What is the median PPA and what are the reasons for the discrepancy between median and average? I'm curious about this argument.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominen criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.