Thursday, December 4, 2014

Running Low on Funds? Remake Yourself as a Charter

Tuxedo, NY, is a cute little town I must have driven through a thousand times on my way to NYC via Route 17. It is also a town with a school district that's in dire need of cash. It's a tiny district with one K-8 building and one 9-12 building. The high school has 375 students in all, and most of those come from a next-door district, Greenwood Lake, which is too small and poor to have its own high school. Greenwood Lake pays Tuxedo $12,240 for each of those high school students. The system has worked for years, but now, as with most semi-rural NYS schools, Tuxedo can barely afford to keep its doors open.

So the board and administration came up with a Good Idea: Tuxedo would remake itself as a charter school, specializing in STEM. That way, they could charge Greenwood the going charter rate for students, which in Greewood Lake's case would come to $18,311 per kid. They could hope to draw students from homeschool situations and from other surrounding districts as well if they billed themselves as a STEM school. And at the same time, they could follow charter rules and perhaps spend less on teachers, because as a charter, they could hire some that lacked certification.

It would be a totally cynical plan if it weren't so necessary and so clever. Needless to say, Greenwood Lake is not pleased. And educational leaders around the state are sitting up and taking notice, because if this works for Tuxedo, why couldn't they be next?

The Greenwood Lake superintendent's remarks are worth contemplating:

"I don't know that this is what the intent of charter schools was. My impression was that it was a way to help get students out of schools that weren't academically successful, not a way to seek out financial stability and deal with enrollment problems."

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