The Montgomery County Board of Education meets on Tuesday in Rockville. Credit: Caitlynn Peetz

For the second consecutive year, the Montgomery County Board of Education is considering the creation of what would be the county’s only charter school. It would provide business-focused education to middle and high school students.

Last year, the school board rejected the same general proposal from the Mentoring by Example College & Career Academy Business Learning Institute (M.E.C.C.A), citing concerns about its ability to maintain adequate funding and enrollment, as well as a lack of a definitive plan for students’ transportation to and from school.

In April, M.E.C.C.A. resubmitted its application — which outlines a plan to first open the school with about 250 students in sixth and seventh grades, then expand by one grade level each year through 12th grade. The proposal underwent its first school board review on Tuesday.

School board members didn’t indicate support or opposition to the proposal this week but peppered project leaders with questions about transportation, finances and their plans to accommodate students in special education programs or who are English language learners.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal on July 26.

MCPS staff members recommended that the board grant “conditional approval,” which would require that the school’s leaders provide more information about its budget and start-up costs by July 2023. If approved, the school is expected to open in the 2024-25 school year. When the phase-in of additional grades is completed, the school is expected to serve about 700 students. If more than its projected enrollment apply to the program, it would operate on a lottery system, project leaders said. Otherwise, all students who apply would be admitted.

The only charter school — A Montessori-based elementary school — that has received approval from the school board was only open as a charter for about a year before it closed the public section of the school in 2014. Officials said at the time it didn’t have enough funding to continue to operate as a charter school. It remained open as a private school.

On Tuesday, LaChaundra Graham, head of the design team for M.E.C.C.A., said the school could tentatively be located in a building on Russell Avenue in Gaithersburg. Previously, the school was proposed to be in the Takoma Park area.

If the project receives approval, leaders would then start formally looking into the option and the cost to renovate the Russell Avenue location. Graham said M.E.C.C.A. is prepared to spend about $2.7 million in renovation costs.

The proposal has received a $900,000 start-up grant through the Maryland State Department of Education, and project leaders plan to secure funding for building renovations through loans, grants or bonds. They anticipate covering operating costs in future years through per-pupil funding that would be provided by MCPS, as well as through fundraising, grants and other means, Graham said.

The plan promises, barring any “catastrophes,” that school bus transportation would be provided to all students, either through an agreement with MCPS or through a contract with another agency.

The curriculum would focus on core subjects like math, literacy, science and social studies, but intertwine business and financial literacy concepts into each topic through “cross-curricular projects,” Graham said.

The proposal resurfaces as MCPS has been debating how to include financial literacy in high school curriculums.

Earlier this month, the school board decided “now is not the time” to begin requiring students to take a financial literacy course prior to graduation.

In a 5 to 3 vote, the board shot down student member Hana O’Looney’s proposal to require all high school students to take a half-credit financial literacy course. Instead, the board approved a plan that requires expanded access to optional courses on the topic. As part of its Tuesday vote, the school board said it will again review the idea, as well as the effectiveness of the efforts to expand access to optional courses, in the spring of 2023.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

Caitlynn Peetz

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com