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School officials, council confident in keeping new Monarch school on track

County schools will launch the new academic year Aug. 25, but parents seeking to enroll their children in the district's new contract school should also pay attention to another date: June 18.

That's the day school officials say it needs all funding in place for Monarch Global Academy Public Contract School, which is scheduled to open in August in the Laurel area.

The $5.8 million that officials say they need for Monarch Global was not specifically earmarked in County Executive Laura Neuman's budget proposal to the County Council.

Neuman said the county gives the school system money to operate its schools on a per-student basis — not per-school or per-teacher — and there's enough money for all of the school system's needs in her budget proposal.

"They certainly have adequate funding for the Monarch school," Neuman said.

Nevertheless, last week school officials petitioned the council for the funding. Councilman Daryl Jones, a Democrat from Severn whose district includes the Monarch site, said he believes it will come.

That would be welcome news for officials at the Baltimore-based Children's Guild, a nonprofit that also runs the existing Monarch Academy Public Charter School in Glen Burnie.

A contract school, they said, draws students from a particular area via a lottery.

The county school board contracted with the Children's Guild to recruit students from Maryland City, Brock Bridge and Jessup elementary schools, primarily to help ease overcrowding at those schools.

The Guild broke ground on school construction last August, and officials said it is about 75 percent complete. They said that acceptance letters have been sent to 521 students who will make up Monarch Global Academy's inaugural kindergarten through fifth grade. That figure includes 120 students who currently are not enrolled in the county school system, officials said.

Ultimately, Monarch Global will add grades six through eight.

The County Council is scheduled to formally adopt a budget June 6. Arundel schools chief operating officer Alex Szachnowicz said that if the school system doesn't identify the $5.8 million it needs for Monarch by then, it would have to adopt alternate funding measures by June 18, when the system has to adopt its own operating and capital budgets.

"June 18 would probably be the absolute point of no return," said Szachnowicz. "When the county finishes its work on June 6, the board's only opportunity is June 18, [and] that would pretty much be the termination date."

Funding isn't the first issue to beset the Laurel school, which the school board approved in a contract with The Children's Guild in June 2012.

In December of that year, the school's developer, Polm Co., struggled to secure funding and permits for the project, pushing back the opening date by one year.

Andrew Ross, president and CEO of the Children's Guild, said he didn't know that the specific funding allocation for the school had not been included in Neuman's draft budget until he read about it in a newspaper article. Yet he, too, said he's confident a plan will be worked out.

"I called Anne Arundel public schools and learned that the school system was dedicated to assuring our school would be funded, given their commitment to the families in West County and to the contract they signed to assure the operation of the school," Ross said.

"The school is on track to open for the first day of school in August, and we have hired 90 percent of the teachers and all the administrative staff," Ross said.

Ross said the school's principal, Donna O'Shea, has kept parents informed about the situation and has assured them the school will open on time in August with funds needed to operate it — as per the terms of the charter agreement.

Jones agreed, adding he's confident that the County Council "will step in and do what is necessary to bring it into existence and make a successful charter school."

Neuman said she's a supporter of the Monarch school and continues to discuss with school officials how the county can support the system.

"I think it will be a great school," she said.

Laurel resident Dwayne Thomas, whose daughter currently attends Brock Bridge Elementary in Laurel, recently sent an email voicing his frustrations over the school funding to Neuman, members of the school board and the County Council.

But contacted Wednesday, Thomas said the conversations he's had with county leaders since give him confidence the school will open on time.

"It's been getting the attention it deserves. They're going to work on it," he said. "I would be totally shocked if it didn't go through."

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

jburris@baltsun.com

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