Rayna Janssen, left, and Emma Foiles, kindergartners at The Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School in Eau Claire work on projects Monday. The Montessori school is seeking transportation for all its 4K students in a new five-year contract beginning next year. 

The Eau Claire school district busing 4-year-old kindergarten students who attend an Eau Claire Montessori charter school would help the school attract more diverse students, since the school doesn’t reflect the rest of the district in its economically disadvantaged and non-white student population, a Montessori administrator said Monday.

The Eau Claire school board on Monday discussed a contract renewal with the Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School, which serves 4K through fifth grade students. The board did not vote on the proposed contract.

About 12% of the Montessori school’s students were non-white in the 2019-20 school year, according to a report from the Montessori school’s principal Todd Johnson. Last school year, non-white students were 33 of its 285 students, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Education data.

The Eau Claire school district averaged 24% non-white students in the 2018-19 school year, according to DPI enrollment counts.

“We need to look more like the Eau Claire school district looks like,” Johnson said Monday, adding that charter schools across the state struggle with meeting diversity targets.

“I think you may have done your best, but your best is not representing what the potential can be,” said board member Charles Vue. “... Try to shoot for that same balance (as the Eau Claire school district).”

The district busing all of the Montessori’s 4K students would help, Johnson said.

“If we’re trying to bring in kids of lower economic status, to me, transporting your child is going to be a barrier, especially if both parents are working or they just don’t have a vehicle,” Johnson said.

A family left the Montessori school last month because they couldn’t keep transporting their child to the school, Johnson said.

Since Montessori students who attend 4K are given priority to continue at the school in future years — the school enrolls students through a lottery and waitlist system — not busing some 4K students could suppress economically disadvantaged students, board member Aaron Harder said.

“This is the major way in, to secure a spot through this lottery system,” Harder said. “The first step on that latter is 4K.”

The district doesn’t currently provide busing for most Montessori 4K students — only those who live close to a bus stop that’s already heading for the Montessori school, or those who have a sibling who attend the school, said the district’s executive director of business Abby Johnson.

The district does bus kindergarten through fifth-grade students who attend the Montessori school.

Calculating the cost of busing Montessori 4K students in the morning is more difficult, but it would cost about $52,000 per year to bus the students home in the afternoon, Johnson said: “There isn’t a lot of opportunity to pair onto other routes, because it would be a private school route we’d potentially look at partnering with.”

Board president Eric Torres said he is concerned with the lack of diversity within the Montessori school’s 15-member governing board, of which he is a member.

The school has improved its special education students’ English language arts and math scores, according to school data. That’s due to pushing to keep special education students in “regular education classrooms,” Johnson said.

The Montessori school is seeking a five-year renewal, from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2025, according to the proposed contract.

The new contract would also double the time CVMCS’ administrator and its teachers are given to obtain Montessori certification — those staff members would have four years from their hiring date to get certified, instead of two years.

The Montessori school has been operating since 2002.

Johnson is also retiring. He has served as full-time principal of the charter school since 2010.

Johnson previously served as teacher and assistant principal at South Middle School starting in 1998; he then became principal of Little Red Elementary and principal at CVMCS.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult to replace you at Montessori,” Eau Claire schools superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck told Johnson Monday. “You have established a great many deep working relationships and friendships there. You are respected and loved by all, and we thank you for your service.”

Lyons replaces Luginbill on board

After hearing statements from 10 applicants and taking two votes, the school board appointed UW-Stout’s chief business officer to serve as its seventh member.

Phil Lyons, UW-Stout Vice Chancellor of Administrative and Student Life Services, will replace Joe Luginbill, who resigned from the board in November.

Lyons received four votes, from board members Laurie Klinkhammer, Aaron Harder, Eric Torres and Charles Vue. Lori Bica voted for attorney Sarah McCracken; Tim Nordin voted for personal care coordinator Karen Peikert.

One of Lyons’ children now attends South Middle School.

“I volunteered in a variety of ways, from supporting PTO at Robbins (Elementary) to orchestra fundraisers at Memorial,” Lyons said, adding that his experience on the Demographic Trends and Facility Planning Committee — which he now chairs — gives him useful experience.

Lyons’ duties will begin Dec. 4. The board seat will be up for re-election in April 2020. Lyons plans to run for the seat in 2020, he stated in application papers.

Twelve people applied for the vacancy created when Luginbill resigned. Two applicants, former Altoona mayor Tom Meyer and state Department of Children and Families program assistant Michelle Vorpahl, withdrew their nominations before the meeting, Torres said.

Other applicants were CESA 10 Development Director Kerrie Ackerson, project engineer Tyler Bahr, city firefighter Chris Bell, Family Advisory Council member Erica Christensen, Ayres Associates controller Lisa Pronschinske, vice president of WESTconsin Credit Union Eau Claire/Altoona offices Erika Schorbahn and former Eleva-Strum school board vice president Karla Svedarsky.

In other news

The board has finalized a position description for its superintendent search, Torres said Monday. The deadline for applicants for the position is Jan. 31, 2020; the board plans to choose a new superintendent before July 1, 2020.

The board voted to appoint Harder as board treasurer. Luginbill, who resigned in November, was previously treasurer.

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