Saturday, October 30, 2010

An option for New Haven public schools

A few months ago I wrote about my defense as a school board member of East Allen County Schools. Much of this directly revolves around the economic forecasts of not only EACS, but public education throughout Indiana.

Now the debate has become focused on New Haven’s mayor advocating the possible secession of the city’s schools from EACS. I won’t discuss the educational reasons the mayor has listed for the proposal because I agree with many of them.

When I was a board member, General Fund revenues were generated by local property taxes. Now they come from the state based on student populations. The money now follows the student. This is a significant change because local school districts’ budgets are dependent on the state’s economy and financial status. Again, I am not going into the pros and cons of this change. The significant change is that student tuition follows the student throughout the state, not being generated from property taxes within the school district.

When I was in my last term on the board, the state authorized the limited existence of charter schools. I favored this because it created a competitive environment for public education. Charter student populations continue to increase in the Ft. Wayne area. This represents a significant budget loss for the local school districts. Yet, they continue to silently ignore this competition. They complain that budgets are in decline, yet fail to admit that charters are taking that money from them. There must be perceived reasons – real or not – why parents are using this option to educate their children.

I say all of this because a possible secession from the school district will hinge on the financing of the school district. As this issue is researched, would a new school district be able to afford a duplicative administrative structure? Doubtful. Would a new school district be immune from current capital debt obligations? Would they be trying to create new debt while paying for old at the same time? How does that protect local taxpayers? Starting a new school district means hiring an entirely new administrative structure, new classroom teaching structure, educational supplies, books, etc. A support staff would also be needed. Hire your own or contract for services? Perhaps contract with the old school district for support services. Can an entire K-12 program be created new for a community in a period of weeks? Doubtful.

The alternative which I suggested to the mayor a couple of months ago, but he dismissed at the time, was to pursue charter school management companies to implement a progressive program to meet the educational goals of the community. Companies could literally create competing programs designed to meet precisely the needs and desires a community would outline. Technically, the mayor has no authority to start charter schools, but if the area is fertile for a charter school, a management company could get authorization through Ball State University. Much – if not all – of the administrative work would be completed by the charter company. The state student tuition would follow the student. This option could be implemented much quicker than trying to establish an entirely new school district.

I agree with the mayor’s end goals – better educational opportunities for New Haven residents. Since my input was not sought, I offer it here to the public.

1 comment:

  1. As a person who owns a business and has dipped the toe into public education, I can state that the education world is one on of the toughest jobs to encounter.

    One must realize that East Allen County school district is the most diverse in the country. New Haven schools are responsibly for reaching and educating thousands of students who are very diverse including populations of Amish, rural farm students, New Haven residents who live in older areas of the city and their counterparts in the newer additions to the south, urban students from the southeast side of Fort Wayne, immigrants from Mexico and Central America and refugees from Burma and Africa. (Literally in a business class at New Haven High School of 25 students, one was Amish, one was African, five were Burmese, two were transfers from Paul Harding and the rest were a mix of New Haven natives.) The differences creates a huge problem when trying to bring everyone up to speed to pass the ISTEP test. Imagine if you arrive from Burma on 01/29, speaking no English, and the ISTEP was going to be given in six weeks and you had to take it. You would be in panic mode.

    As an individual, who has been interviewed by charter schools, I realized that they were actually worse than the public schools, in Fort Wayne. The charter schools are set up as to obtain funds, not for education but to collect government funds. Imagine Schools' former principal asked why the school had to pay Imagine Real Estate, the real estate arm of Imagine Schools, 40% of their annual funds on its rent, and he was fired. Do you really want a corporation like that running your schools?

    Furthermore, the charter schools in Fort Wayne are not capable of serving the Burmese refugees who attend Meadowbrook Elementary, the Amish at New Haven High School, the several and moderately handicapped students at New Haven High School and the emotionally disturbed students at New Haven Middle Schools students.

    In addition, the charter schools still follow state testing requirements and government standards that don't allow our students to think. Yes, in New Haven, several students have no creativity or thought process. Sad, but true! Several charter schools, including Imagine, KIPP and others, teach the test and nothing but the test! There is no shop, no art, no choir, etc. In reality, charters schools don't produce a 21st global education. For further research into this manner, please read the Global Achievement Gap by Wagner, that addresses how standardized testing and AP classes, leave our children without an ability to think.