In one final fiscal f@#k you to the residents, taxpayers, parents, and teachers of Clay County, Superintendent Van Zant recommended that the school board approve another charter school despite the district committee’s recommendation to deny the application. The school board voted 3-2 to override the committee’s recommendation and approve St. Johns Classical Academy, with recently ousted Chairwoman McKinnon leading the charge. School board members Condon and Gilhousen followed suit. School board members Kerekes and Studdard voted to deny the application.
Kerekes brought up the fact that the district committee listed several deficiencies with the charter school’s application. Representatives from the charter school spoke before the board and provided documentation that they claimed addressed these deficiencies. Kerekes suggested that the board review the documentation and vote at a later date. Unfortunately, McKinnon was unwilling to wait – possibly because she won’t be around at a later date.
According to the district committee, one major flaw in the application was: “The application does not provide a clear and coherent educational program design for grades 912.” I’m no expert, but that seems pretty important.
I spoke before the board, urging them to deny the application. The charter schools that we already have are costing the district approximately $5.6 million per year (~800 students @ ~$7,000 FTE dollars each). The St. Johns Classical Academy has a proposed capacity of 810 students. This district will be bled dry.
For those of you who are new to the charter school racket: here’s a brief rundown. They are “public schools” in that they use public funds but they are exempt from many of the state statutes that traditional public schools must abide by. These schools can look more appealing to parents because they have more control over their school day. They can boast about less standardized testing and more electives. The part they don’t boast about is their ability to turn away students who don’t meet their criteria or do not thrive once they are there.
As charter schools siphon off students and funds, they leave neighborhood school under capacity. While those schools end up cutting teacher allocations to save money, there are many costs that do no decrease as the student population declines. With the exception of portables, schools can’t run air conditioning in one classroom but not another. The entire building and grounds must still be maintained. The allocation cuts tend to target electives first, leaving the remaining students without art, music, or other resources.
Traditional public schools are being asked to compete with charter schools with one hand tied behind our back. This new charter school was praised by several school board members for its ability to offer a “classical education”. As far as I can tell, that means the opposite of the wall-to-wall career academies that have been shoved down our throats. Parents love the idea of less testing in charter schools while teachers in traditional public schools are quitting the profession because they are so disgusted with the volume of standardized testing being forced upon our students. Traditional public schools can offer the same quality education that charter schools boast about (although the results sometimes don’t always pan out), but only if we are allowed to do our jobs. Teachers across the state are screaming JUST LET US TEACH!
This problem must be fixed at the state level. If a school district denies a charter school’s application, they can appeal to the state. Kerekes suggested that we deny the charter and let the state force it on us if they win at appeal. I completely agree. We should all be working together to send a message to the state. We should also be working together to bring more of our private school and home school children back into the public school system. Gilhousen mentioned that this new charter school would be very attractive to home school parents. Why aren’t we trying to make our traditional public schools more attractive to them?
The St. Johns Classical Academy is one gift that the people of Clay County just cannot afford. Additional charter schools will eventually force the closure of neighborhood schools. Who will be here to pick up the pieces if these charter schools abruptly shut down? Not Van Zant and McKinnon. At this rate – maybe not Condon or Gilhousen either.