Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Quick fix needed for preschool

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        More than a hundred kids evicted. An inner-city David against a health-care Goliath. This has the makings of a pretty good melodrama, except I couldn't find a villain.

        My next choice would be a good sob story, but Ann Baumbach refuses to whine. Instead of a hankie, she says, it would be more helpful if somebody would take out a checkbook.

        Ann, the director of the Montessori Learning Center (MLC), is not asking for a gift, although that would be nice. She'd like to borrow the money to buy a new building.

        Collateral. That's one rub. Some parents think the zoo of brightly painted poster-board animals made by tiny hands is priceless. But Sotheby's so far has not expressed an interest. You can't sell off teachers or trade them like you could if they could hit a baseball really hard. There's not a big market for used computers, even if they have been gently used.

Heavily regulated
        The school's balance sheet doesn't look so hot right now. either. Last year, the board and administration decided to make some investments. Teachers got raises. Equipment was purchased. The playground was resurfaced.

        “We were investing in our operation,” Ann says. “But we spent the money before we knew we had to move.”

        After 12 years at its location in Mount Auburn, Montessori Learning Center was evicted. The building was sold and the school was given two months' notice in January. In the middle of the school year. How complicated can it be to move a little school, I asked Ann.

        Loud laughter.

        Prolonged laughter.

        It's more than just packing up the hand-painted zoo, loading up small chairs and breaking the news to students and their parents. A school building — thank goodness — is heavily regulated. The new space, even though it was temporary, had to be vetted by fire marshals and building inspectors.

The bottom line
        Temporary space was provided in the old Jewish Hospital nursing school by the Health Alliance, parent company of Christ Hospital, which sold MLC's building to SABIS Educational Systems. SABIS, which manages 19 schools in eight countries, will open an “international school” at the Montessori school's old location.

        The for-profit company purchased not only the MLC building but some of the surrounding real estate owned by the Health Alliance. At first, the charter school will be K-7 and eventually is supposed to expand to the 12th grade.

        All the reasons to applaud the location of the little Montessori school are the same reasons to like having the bigger school there — an opportunity for an ethnically and economically diverse student body, lots of bus lines, a proven track record.

        And the Health Alliance provided the temporary space free of charge. Ann says, “People at the Health Alliance have been dynamite, welcoming and helpful — everything from the licensing to stopped-up toilets.”

        It's about money. We can understand that — we're all adults. Well, not all of us. A hundred little souls know where Asia is but don't know where their school will be next year.

        By the end of August, Montessori Learning Center must move again. Somewhere. Anybody have any ideas? Maybe a spare building?

        There appear to be no villains in this story, but Montessori Learning Center sure could use a hero.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com, or call 768-8393.


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