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Email to the Editor: I-1240 Takes Oversight, Funds Away from Local Public Schools

Nancy Merrill writes that it is her opinion outside of her role on the Enumclaw School Board, that this election's initiative on charter schools is not the right answer and urges a 'no' vote.

It is election season. The time and chance we have to impact the direction of our government and our public schools. Wait. I-1240 takes that away from us! And that is just one reason to Vote No on I-1240.

I am not opposed to the concept of charter schools, but this law, at this time, is not the answer. Charters should be cost neutral to local districts, and remain under the authority of locally elected boards, giving taxpayers a real, and ongoing, say in the management of their school tax dollars.  

I-1240 will divert money away from public schools - don’t be fooled. Under the complicated funding system, reductions in enrollment directly impact a district’s ability to staff special services like librarians, counselors, health aids, Music, PE and Art specialists. Read your Voter’s Pamphlet, pages 11-18 and find the multiple times the Office of the Attorney General indicates I-1240 “will result in an indeterminate, but not non-zero, fiscal impact to local public school districts.”  I-1240 will mean a costly diversion of tax dollars away from already underfunded public schools to set up privately run schools on public tax dollars - with no local voter accountability, and no guarantee of success.  It will cost over $3 million just to establish a new bureaucracy to manage the charter schools! This is simply not a good charter law.

The Supreme Court had it right last January when they ruled the State has been ignoring its constitutional mandate and underfunding basic education for decades. In fact, with the exception of 2012 (due to the ruling), public education has endured continued deep cuts year after year.  Many excellent and innovative programs that were reaching ALL children, and making a difference, have been reduced or eliminated.  I’ll give an example from our district regarding only one program. Voters approved I-728 in 2002 to provide new funds to schools. The Enumclaw School District chose to use those funds to provide full day kindergarten instruction free to ALL children, a program that was making a difference!  After 6 years, the legislature eliminated those funds. As a result, a very effective, critical program that was improving education for ALL children was cut.  Shouldn’t this funding be re-instated first to all 295 districts for serving all students?

Some charter schools do show success, and we need to explore how to make them work here, but they are not a silver bullet. The most extensive study done by Stanford found only 17% did better than public schools. As a member of the Washington State School Director Association Board of Directors I’ve witnessed your public schools across the state doing amazingly innovative things when given the resources and flexibility. Let’s first fully fund education for ALL children, run by locally elected boards accountable to the local taxpayers, before we start experimenting with costly and unproven privately run charter schools for a very few.

Vote NO on I-1240. For more information, please check out http://peopleforourpublicschools.org.

Nancy Merrill
School Director Area 1, 22 years
Enumclaw School District

John Anderson October 28, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Thanks for your letter, Nancy, and for your years of service on the school board. I too am concerned about external non-profit corporations being able to run a school in our district, take local levy and state funds, and yet not be accountable to either our school board or local taxpayers. As we have seen with super pacs in this campaign season, non-profit is not always what it seems. I was a strong advocate of school choice for my entire career. Forty years ago I founded an option within the public system (Challenger HS) that has thrived through several waves of educational reform, to this day graduates 100 students a year, and maintains higher test scores than its traditional feeder schools. I have been state coordinator of alternative schools, president of the Washington Alternative Association Learning, editor of Options in Education, and director of Washington's Schools for the 21st Century and The Center for the Improvement of Student Learning. Over those years, I worked with educational options across the state and country. Many of these programs mirror within the school system exactly what the proponents of charter schools are asking for, but without relinquishing local board and taxpayer control. I have concerns about non-school people running our schools by their own rules. If those who want charter schools are advocating primarily for what is already possible, what else are they asking voters for?
Richard Oh October 29, 2012 at 02:24 AM
I agree, at this time with declining property values and less taxes coming in because of that, now is NOT the time for charter schools. Please vote no on I-1240.
dexterjibs October 29, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Heaven forbid the public schools and the unionized teachers face any competition from charter schools. I will vote yes.
John Anderson October 29, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Thanks for your comment, Richard. The Office of Financial Management estimates ADDITIONAL costs of I-2040 to be $3,090,700 for state agencies, such as the State Board of Education, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the new Charter School Commission in the governor's office. Here is information from the proposed legislation about one of those new costs: "The Washington charter school commission is established as an independent state agency." "Three members shall be appointed by the governor; three members shall be appointed by the president of the senate; and three members shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives." "Operational and staff support for the commission shall be provided by the office of the governor." Many of us would like to see this $3,090,700 of "support" moving back to local schools for successful programs that have been cut or eliminated, like those Nancy mentioned above.
John Anderson October 29, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Thanks, Dexter, for joining in this important discussion. I am not sure what heaven would forbid, but it is clear what the proposed law requires. Although the charter schools would be exempt from most state laws relating to education, they would still be required to follow the rules relating to collective bargaining. Again, from the proposed legislation: "Charter schools are not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and school district boards of directors." "Charter schools are exempt from all school district policies except policies made applicable in the school's charter contract." Charter schools would have their own collective bargaining units and be subject to the agreements made with those units. If you were looking for a way to avoid unions, this law is not it. Maybe you will vote against it after all. : ) Maybe not. : ( Good to hear from you, either way.
dexterjibs October 30, 2012 at 06:33 AM
John, you are obviously a good guy. But I see the damage that the NEA, the WEA, also called the public teachers union, has called in public education. it is darn near impossible to fire a public school teacher for horrific actions and results. Me, and other people that pay taxes to public schools are grasping for something different. I will hold my breath for one week to wait for another public school teacher to have sex with another student, or brainwash students to vote for Obama or Inslee, or give support for gay marriage, marijuana legalization or some other left wing cause. John, the public schools have been taken over by left wing extremists and conservatives like me, are told to shut up, and accept it. And if we don't, we must be closed minded. Wht happened to just teaching kids the facts and how to think instead of what to think?
John Anderson October 30, 2012 at 06:46 PM
And to think I was afraid you were leaving PATCH! I must admit I sometimes fall for your crazy humor. Regarding how hard it is to fire a teacher: In every incident I've heard of in cases like you mentioned, the teacher was fired and criminal charges were filed. Not so with priests, boy scout leaders, college coaches, etc. when they sexually abused young people in their charge. Regarding the unions: I have never been a union member, but have respect for the role they play. However, your views (or mine) about unions are not relevant to Initiative 1240. Teachers in charter schools would have the same collective bargaining rights as teachers in traditional schools.
John Anderson October 31, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Charter schools have been around for decades, but most people were unfamiliar with them until recently. As the corporate community assumed more of a role in education, it saw privately-run public schools as a way to align the system with its goals. Schools have two major roles--educating a population to sustain a democracy and preparing a future workforce. Since corporations have one clear purpose--to make a profit (part of THEIR charter), it is to their advantage to emphasize the second role and limit the first. Many of us are concerned with the subsequent narrowing of the curriculum. The leader in promoting a corporate agenda for our state's schools has been the Washington Roundtable, an assembly of the state's largest companies' executives, and its school policy unit, Partnership for Learning. They were instrumental in passage of legislation creating the WASL and subsequent high-stakes tests. Now this well-funded non-profit is lobbying hard for charter schools. One thing I couldn't do with Challenger School was turn it over to a corporation to run, one that could collect its proportional share of tax revenue but not be accountable to local tax payers, and that could incur debt and manage its finances without supervision of the local school district. That, the creation of a new $3 million state bureaucracy, and exemption from most of the rules everyone else must follow, are about the only things that are different from what we have now. But those provisions are huge.

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