An advertisement airing on local television, sponsored by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, gives the impression the charter school movement has no downside.
Proponents say it’s free, open to all and gives parents an option to public schools, even implying that parents will be able to work better with teachers in a charter school setting.
I am not 100 percent opposed to charter schools. In the interest of full disclosure, I serve on the MSAD 54 board of directors and have children in the MSAD 54 school system.
The most prominent misinformation in this advertisement is that charter schools are free.
Most people who live in the real world know nothing is free. The state approved two charter schools in the Skowhegan area that directly affect MSAD 54 district. If indeed charter schools were free, this wouldn’t have been a shortsighted plan.
This year, MSAD 54 paid out $455,098 to the charter schools in our area. The district was given the information in September, six months after the budget development started in March. The district did not know this expense was coming into play until July, and we were not given the enrollment for the schools until after school started in September.
In March, we will begin development of the budget for 2013-14 school year. With the state approving higher enrollments for the two charter schools, we will have to guess what the district will pay out because the charter schools don’t have to provide information about enrollment until June.
Their deadline is after the vote on our budget, not to mention the work we do on it. We are faced with possible tax increases that could be quite significant for the towns in our district, and we have to guess what we will pay out.
In October, I asked Stephen Bowen, the commissioner of education, about the difficulty boards across the state will face in regards to the uncertain enrollment for charter schools. I asked how, as a board, we were going to responsibly put forth a budget that might have to pay out upward of $750,000 to the charter schools in our district.
To date, nothing has been said or done to address the matter.
As a board member, I am frustrated to have to say “local taxes have to be raised because we will probably need the funds to cover the charter school expense.” It seems to me that it will be a hard sell at best.
Many people who have spoken to me about this issue think that the district can cut teaching positions and/or bus runs to cover the cost since the kids are not being taught or transported by our district.
The students who chose to transfer to the charter schools were spread out over the many schools in our district, a few from each school/class. That means no one school is affected enough to cut a position, eliminate a bus run or even close up a classroom.
People also have been told that only state money that the district receives are affected and that local funds are not touched. This information is simply wrong.
The cost for each child is calculated using a formula set forth by the state and the district simply has to pay the money out to each school, minus a fee for the charter commission that last year amounted to $13,452. This includes transportation for each child even though the charter schools provide either limited or no transportation.
The claim that parents are able to interact better with teachers at a charter school than those at traditional public schools is subjective at best.
When I, as a parent, have a concern or question for my children’s teachers, I am able to meet with them and have ongoing conversations about my concerns. This was the case long before I became a board member.
Finally, charter schools are not open to all. They have a limited enrollment and student will get in only if space allows. If the number of applications is greater than the approved enrollment then a lottery is held to see which child will be accepted.
As a board member, citizen and parent, I am concerned that the public doesn’t know the full impact that the current setup for charter schools has on our community. Valid concerns we have raised about our inability to plan and budget go unanswered.
Charging forward without looking at current problems will doom the charter school movement to failure.
Charter schools are not free. They simply spread the cost out in the form of higher local taxes to everyone.
Jennifer Lynds of Cornville is a member of the MSAD 54 board of director and the parent of children in the district’s schools.