The Baltimore Montessori Charter School is trying to accept more neighborhood students, but the Baltimore school system is trying to stop it. (Baltimore Sun video)
The Baltimore City school board voted Tuesday night to give the Baltimore Montessori Charter Public School the right to reserve 10 percent of its seats for neighborhood students, half the number the school had sought.
The proposal had pitted the charter school against a neighborhood elementary school whose supporters said might not survive if students chose to attend Montessori.
Speaking to the board before the vote, the principal and supporters of Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School said their school was successful and improving with the help of the community.
But Montessori director Allison Shecter told the board she had no intention of harming Dallas Nicholas. "We want Dallas Nicholas to be a successful school," Shecter said. "It is not our intent to take kids from Dallas Nicholas, but to give students a choice."
The school board first voted on the school's request to have 20 percent of its slots reserved for the neighborhood, but that proposal failed, with only two votes of support on the 10-member board.
The second proposal, made by city schools CEO Gregory Thornton, called for the school to reserve 10 percent. That motion was approved by a vote of 7-2. One member abstained.
Montessori, a popular charter with a waiting list of 1,200, draws students from across the city, many from affluent and middle-income households. Students in the surrounding community of Greenmount West often can't go to the school in their neighborhood because of a lottery system. Montessori wanted to reserve spaces for those students who could see the school out their doors but couldn't attend, hoping that it would strengthen the gentrifying but still struggling community.
Montessori made the request after the state's charter school law was changed last year to allow the schools to carve out up to 35 percent of the seats for neighborhood students.
Although the school sought a maximum of 82 students from the surrounding neighborhood, the approved deal will give them half of that.
About 50 students at Dallas Nicholas today could attend Montessori. Shecter said only six students from Dallas Nicholas have requested to come to Montessori next fall.
School board member Cheryl Casciani said she hoped that the two schools would be able to work together so that both remained healthy. "It shouldn't come down to pitting the two schools against each other," she said.