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Shutting Down Public Voice on Charters

As originally envisioned, charter schools were supposed to be a way of empowering communities to have a stronger voice in decision-making at their local schools — with community leaders, parents, and teachers on the boards and decisions being made in ways that gave stakeholders direct access rather than layers of bureaucracy.

In New York, however, the expansion and oversight of the state’s charter sector seems to be moving in the opposite direction. As evidence, I encourage a review of yesterday’s decision by one of the state’s charter authorizers to allow the Success Charter Network to merge at least five of its schools (and soon eleven, and likely eventually all forty of their schools) under a single board — essentially creating a new school district run by non-profit corporate leadership rather than public officials or local leaders.

If you haven’t heard much news about this plan, it’s not surprising — while the boards of the network’s schools approved the mergers in February, the DOE didn’t have a hearing to get local input on the proposal until this past Friday (with two days notice) — and didn’t release any of the documents explaining what the mergers would look like. For example, parents in these neighborhoods only recently learned that the merger would include an increase in the Network’s fees from 10% to 15% of each student’s funding (a part of the proposal which is still under consideration by the SUNY Charter School Institute).

What’s worse, at the committee meeting to approve the mergers (which was announced on the institute’s website over the weekend), the committee did not discuss either the statements given at Friday’s hearing or the one submitted by the UFT last Thursday, all of which raised substantive concerns about the impact of the mergers on parent and public voice in their local charter schools. When questioned as to why these statements were not publicly considered before the committee’s vote, their legal counsel stated that the SUNY K-12 Education Committee was not legally obligated to publicly consider any input on mergers or other charter revisions that didn’t come directly from a charter’s district of location.

According to their legal counsel, Chancellor Walcott had decided not to pass on any of the statements made at Friday’s hearing in time for the committee’s meeting. Since no public comments were accepted at the committee’s meeting itself, public input on this incredibly important new merger policy and its first ever implementation was effectively shut out of this decision.

As we expressed in the statement we sent to the committee on Thursday, this series of events sets a terrible precedent for future efforts to comply with the state law’s mandate to effectively oversee charter schools and make responsible decisions about which charter schools and networks have earned the right to expand. The SUNY Board of Trustees should look closely at the way in which today’s decision was made, and should take steps to ensure that this exclusion of public comment from decisions about the state’s public schools does not happen again.

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6 Comments:

  • 1 Remainders: Teachers unions giving big to political committees | GothamSchools
    · Apr 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    […] The UFT says a change to a charter network’s structure effectively creates a new school system. (Edwize) […]

  • 2 questions
    · Apr 25, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    why are they merging the boards?

    why are they going to segregate special education students at one site?

    is the consolidation of sites into a separate middle school designed to hide the attrition at the different schools?

    if they were awarded charters for k-8 schools, not k-4 schools and 5-8 schools, shouldn’t they need to get a new charter for the previously unauthorized 5-8 school?

    will they admit students from outside the network into the 5-8 school?

  • 3 Harringtonian
    · Apr 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    With all due respect, the Harlem Success Academy merger is just the tip of the iceberg. Another outrage which evoked no comment whatsoever from the Trustees was the advocacy by CSI of “replication” wherein “successful” Charter School operators will be allowed to create new schools with minimal administrative oversight over the application process.

    Still these are only components. the real horror is the overall policy laid out in the CSI memorandum, dated March 12, 2012, entitled “Merger and Consolidation of Existing Charter Schools” which can be found at:

    .

    Along with the facilitation of replication, CSI is NOT merely supporting the cloning of particular Charter Schools. Rather, it intends to facilitate, for example, the creation of “feeder school” networks and specialized programs/schools geared to “problem” groups like boys, ELLs and most obviously, Special Ed
    children.

    Meanwhile, extraordinarily complex structures will be created so that different Charter operators, for instance, can consolidate their
    “scholars” into off location high schools simultaneously operated by differently owned and distinct entities. As a consequence, when fully operational, no one will then be able to figure out what “Education Corporation” is responsible for which classes.

    All the while, each entity will be held “accountable” for itself and itself only. This, of course, is a guarantee of a series of clusterf*&ks of gargantuan proportions.

    If you think I’m making this up, take a look at the first two items on the April 17th CSI memorandum outlining its approval of the consolidation of two sets of charter secondary school programs into separate High Schools located in CSD different from that of either feeder school:

    If anyone can figure out what this means – especially in terms of the “accountability” of the respective high schools – I suggest you share with us whatever it is you have been smoking.

    What this all boils down to is the creation of entire privatized school districts within public school districts. It is this plan of “educational governance cancers” that is publicly endorsed by John White for New Orleans (and throughout Louisiana) and will soon be coming to a city a mere ninety miles from our shores (to wit, Philadelphia).

    I have seen the future. It is a world free of pesky “politics”. In a nutshell, it is for those who think Mayoral Control is too democratic!

  • 4 Richard Skibins
    · Apr 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Don’t forget that by having that sham meeting on a Friday, it ensured that news of it would not make it to the press or the people.

  • 5 New Charter Report Improves Transparency but Leaves Many Questions Unanswered | Edwize
    · May 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    […] However, recent events have indicated a troubling move away from this vision towards a more corporate model of control by some of the sector’s most high-profile advocates and policy-makers. If the charter sector […]

  • 6 Ken Atkinson
    · May 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Rich- I remember you- a friend of John Settle’s, I believe.