Charter School Babble

Posted by Annie on Jul 21, 2009 in Education |

It looks to me like the San Bernardino Unified School District is starting to feel the pinch. Could the school’s fiancial officers be plotting to curtail the surge in charter school offerings?

Charter schools surge at San Bernardino City Unified’s expense

Spread across the two-county Inland region’s 45 school districts are 41 charter schools. That would seem to average out to less than one per district, but San Bernardino has five.

A sixth, New Vision Middle School, is planned to open in the fall. A seventh, the Norton Space and Aeronautics Academy, operates within the school district’s boundaries but is chartered through the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools office.

Since January, the district’s school board has considered five applications for charters, including New Vision.

The trustees denied three. Crown Ridge Academy, which received an extension, will be considered by the board tonight, as will Options for Youth.

Charter schools have been allowed statewide since 1992 and California has about 850. Experts say the push for charters in San Bernardino is largely driven by the school district’s academic challenges. San Bernardino City Unified is on a California list of schools that have failed to meet federal testing standards.

While the district cites a 20 percent increase from 2004 to 2009 in the number of high school seniors graduating, it has struggled with a dropout rate of 23.5 percent, compared to the statewide average of 20.2 percent. For black and Latino students, the rate is even higher — 26.2 and 23.6 percent respectively.

Steven Holguin, assistant general manager for the Inland Empire region of the California Charter Schools Association, which trains petitioners in the charter launch process, says a number of trainees plan to apply in San Bernardino. They see the district’s struggles as a call to arms of sorts, he said.

“With the student needs and the community interest in education, it’s a perfect storm,” he said.

While he is an advocate for charter schools, Holguin also offers advice to Inland school districts. Holguin said his organization wants to ensure districts are approving the best charters.

At a recent meeting, he urged the district to be less lenient in giving applicants chances to fine-tune petitions.

Some petitioners have appeared before the school board three and four times seeking direction or deadline extensions.

The school board recently voted 7-0 to approve the first reading of a policy that sets timelines for approval and a deadline for opening a school once a petition is approved. The board will consider final approval tonight.

Dayton Gilleland, assistant superintendent of student services, said the idea behind the policy is not to block charters but to ensure they are of good quality.

“If it is in the best interest of kids, we feel that we can partner,” he said.

Teresa Parra-Craig, president of the San Bernardino school board, said charter school operators have advantages that traditional public schools don’t, such as the ability to select their students, as long as they don’t discriminate.

“I think they truly feel that they could do it better,” she said. “I could, too, if I had different rules.”

Legally, districts cannot block a charter school application if it meets the 16 required elements. Charter status exempts the schools from many of the state statutes and regulations that apply to school districts, according to the state Department of Education. They must meet federal testing standards and hire credentialed teachers.

The district offers many of the same programs that the charter schools do.

It has magnet schools that specialize in subjects from the arts to dual-immersion language learning to environmental science and technology, Parra-Craig said.

What the district needs is charter schools that offer something different, she said.

“They are selling programs to the board, in many cases, that we already have,” she said.

Another issue raised by some board members is that charter schools siphon off money by taking away students.

In any case, the author should have checked his facts The Press-Enterprise reported,

Legally, districts cannot block a charter school application if it meets the 16 required elements. Charter status exempts the schools from many of the state statutes and regulations that apply to school districts, according to the state Department of Education. They must meet federal testing standards and hire credentialed teachers.

Her statement is misleading. While many charters place a requirement on families who join that forces them to participate in state testing requirements. The law actually provides that a parent of any student has the option of opting out of testing. How can charter schools demand testing that isn’t required of all public school students?

It sounds as if the San Bernardino School District is considering starting a charter of it’s own. Apparently, they aren’t hemorrhaging enough money, so let’s spend more, by opening more schools.

If the San Berardino Unified School District is losing so many students and their scores are so bad, why should they have to stick with what isn’t working? Our schools should reflect our local communities and be an extension of that community.

It’s time we see that our so-called federal standards simply don’t work. It’s time we got the federal government out of the business of dictating what type of school districts we need. In these economic times we should be pulling together and tightening our belts.

It’s time to rein in the money parade and start looking at ways to bring sound financial practices into our state and local governments. Our government should be a reflection of the people it serves. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched in some way by these hard economic times.

Doesn’t anyone have any common sense – or was Patrick Henry the last voice of reason?

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1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    San Bernardino School Board President Parra-Craig needs to realize that charter schools are not a detriment to the community, but a welcome change.

    She claims charters can choose their students, which is absolutely false and alleges that other schools would do as well if they "had different rules." I've been a teacher for 9 years. I've taught in public and charter schools (mainly public!) at the middle school level.

    The only rules that are any different are those that prevent teachers from teaching… the ones implemented by the school districts themselves! There is absolutely no difference in the type or quality of student at a charter school.

    Actually, in my experience, there is a higher incidence of special need students. Behavior problems make their way into charter schools at the same rate as public schools. Instead of making excuses, mayble Parra-Craig should analyze why the charter schools work and attempt to change some rules in the San Bernardino City district in order compete. Charter schools do tend to be better schools because of the change in priority. Charter school teachers often work harder than the average teacher, putting in longer hours, and must be creative in that they don't have the same resources as public school teachers.

    There is so much waste in public schools. If we all worked like charter school employees, we'd have plenty of money to get through the budget crunch and we'd greatly improve the education of our students. No one in San Bernardino City district should be making excuses and defending their schools… They should be thanking God someone is stepping in to try to help the area's students and bring in new ideas that might actually work!

    Maybe the addition of charter schools will guide the district toward success. At this point, there is no argument that the schools and students/families are failing each other. Cut the excuses and let's find a road to success!

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