West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics and Walden Green Montessori School, both located in Ferrysburg, are among 298 charter schools in Michigan serving more than 140,000 students. Both schools offer kindergarten through eighth-grade curriculums.
Although charter schools receive per-pupil funding from the state, they don’t have a community tax base to ask for bonds.
In the 1980s, Walden Green Montessori School was established as a private school. In 1995, it transitioned into a charter school through Central Michigan University. The school currently has 193 students.
West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics, which was established in 1996, currently has 460 students. It is chartered through Grand Valley State University.
The Tribune asked the directors of the local charter schools about their schools:
Q: What are you most proud of about your school?
Mark Neidlinger, director of Walden Green Montessori School: I’m proud that we have loyal families who are dedicated to Montessori education, superb and committed staff, a K-8 program, a beautiful modern building that’s nestled in the woods, our ability to provide small group instruction, and I’m proud of our involvement in the greater community and relationships we’re building.
Travis Thomsen, director of West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics: We have a lot to be proud of at WMAAA. We continue to provide a top-notch education while providing students with exposure to various art forms. Our friendly and community atmosphere is palpable upon walking in the building. Kids love to come to school every day. We continue to expand and provide experiences to our students in the face of funding cuts. We serve numerous communities in our building and welcome everyone.
Q: What are the challenges of being a charter school?
Neidlinger: The multiple layers of compliance and accountability, more than what traditional schools go through. Fiscal challenges, because we have to buy our own and we don’t have the ability to ask for funds.
Thomsen: One of the most challenging aspects of charter schools is the lack of available funding for capital projects. We do not have access to taxpayer bonds and millages, which requires us to use our annual operating budget for maintenance and expansion. We also face a lot of misconceptions about charter schools in general. For example, we are not a public school (and) we don't serve special-education students — just to name a few.
To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.