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Isthmus Montessori Academy

The Madison School Board delayed a vote Monday on a contract to turn Isthmus Montessori Academy, as seen in a January, into a public, tuition-free charter school.

The Madison School Board delayed a decision Monday on whether to turn a private Montessori school on the North Side into a public charter school.

Over concerns on a handful of issues, the board voted to refer a five-year contract to bring the tuition-based, private Isthmus Montessori Academy (IMA) into the school district next year as a public, tuition-free school serving children grades 3K through nine.

Members voted 5-2 to refer the contract, asking the school district and IMA to re-examine the attendance area and transportation options, clarify accountability measures and have any waivers to the Madison School District handbook follow the appropriate process.

A revised contract is set to come back before the Madison School Board no later than Aug. 21.

Members TJ Mertz and Nicki Vander Meulen voted against referral as both had other problems with the contract they thought would not be addressed in further negotiations.

The school, 1402 Pankratz St., would become Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School in fall 2018 if the contract is approved.

Several board members were worried about whether the charter school could meet its proposed demographic makeup by having enrollment available districtwide through a lottery — what the current contract calls for — in lieu of limiting enrollment to a smaller geographical area.

“I would like this school to be as targeted as humanly possible,” said member Kate Toews.

The charter school projects to start enrollment at 170 students and rise to about 240 students by the fifth year. IMA now enrolls about 80 students as a private institution.

Attendees at Monday’s meeting were largely split. Several Madison School District teachers argued against the contract, citing concerns with the charter school’s special education staffing level and its arts and physical education offerings.

But supporters touted the benefits of the Montessori teaching model, which includes multi-age classroom groupings and self-directed learning, for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds whose parents can’t afford a private school.

“It has the opportunity to enhance the many strengths of the district,” said Melissa Droessler, who co-founded IMA with Carrie Marlette in 2012. “This is not only a scientific method of education offering an incredible amount of enlightening instruction, it is a public school designed to rise for and founded upon inclusionary tactics.”

Droessler said it has been the intention to turn IMA into a public school since it opened.

The charter school’s budget would start at $1.39 million in the first year and grow to $1.89 million in the fifth year. As part of those funds, the school’s governing council and parent foundation would need to raise about $700,000 over the five-year term.

The charter school would run a budget deficit through the five years, starting at about $30,000 in the 2018-19 school year and rising to almost $139,000 in the 2022-23 school year.


Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.