Sunday, April 03, 2011

Budgets, Consolidations, Charters

The NY budget aftermath is not quite as painful as expected, but that's the best that can be said for it. N.Y. prepares for sharp pains from budget:

As of Friday, roughly 240 districts had announced plans to lay off 15,783 teachers and staff, said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers. Yonkers said this week it would lay off 732 employees.
The final number is expected to be between 18,000 and 20,000, Korn said.
A recent state School Boards Association survey found that many districts plan to increase class sizes, reduce or eliminate sports and other extracurricular activities, and offer fewer electives.
Some people think that consolidation will help a lot, and that even districts much larger than ours are simply too small to exist. Consider the NYT op-ed at How State Cuts to Education Affect Rich and Poor:
No district, no matter how wealthy, that has but 1,600 students in 13 grades, or roughly 125 students per grade, can offer as many AP classes as a much larger district.
The extremely small Ilion district should not exist, for both financial and educational reasons.

But even much larger districts are in trouble. Fulton school district budget cuts positions, programs

The proposed budget includes using up to $2 million in reserves and cutting about 21 staff positions, including the director of universal pre-kindergarten, a teacher on special assignment and nearly 15 teachers and teaching assistants....
Also being cut is $400,000 in software program purchases, all public relations from Oswego County BOCES, teacher aide positions at all buildings, totaling about $100,000 and some extracurricular activities.
He also is reducing... ... Lynch also said all of the unions were approached about taking pay freezes for the coming year. Five of the unions are still talking about the move, while the teachers union declined.

There probably isn't any "good" answer for most of this, but, well, we have to try. We have to try new things. One context for innovation is the charter school, like The Equity Project: "a New York charter school, that opened in September 2009". This week the Utica Observer-Dispatch reports Charter schools — idea praised, funding criticized:

The Mohawk Valley Charter School for Excellence last week submitted its book-sized application to the state...The worried that funds siphoned off by a charter school would make a bleak situation worse.
Charter schools are independent, like parochial schools, but are funded by taxpayers, like other public schools. They have been heralded by supporters as leaders in education reform because they allow big ideas to be tried out quickly. Detractors say they take resources, successful students and involved parents away from traditional public schools....
The school wants to give Utica parents a small school alternative to the Utica City School District. It would have longer days, a longer school year, and be math and English intensive. Students would wear uniforms, and each would have an individualized education plan called a “plan for excellence.”

There are obviously real advantages and disadvantages to the charter-school approach; it's an option, something to be remembered. It may be that charter schools have a natural advantage when districts shrink. From Michigan we hear Why are charter schools not part of the consolidation debate?

Each of the state’s more than 200 charter schools is smaller than the smallest Kent County school district.
But ... leaders from President Barack Obama to state Superintendent Michael Flanagan have included expanding the role of charter schools as part of their Race to the Top education reform measures.
About 111,000 Michigan students attend 243 charter schools, including 7,500 students in Kent County and 2,760 students within the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. Charter school backers said their operations are efficient despite their small size.
Also in Michigan, charters are growing -- Sound Off: What's Your Reaction To Detroit Public School Plan
DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb on Wednesday released a list of 45 Detroit public schools that could be converted to charter schools. It's part of the district's Renaissance 2012 Plan.

In Oklahoma school consolidation, it seems okay for closed schools to become charter Vacant TPS schools to go up for bid after Project Schoolhouse closings | Tulsa World

"Our plan is to try to be sensitive to what the repurpose would be. If a charter school asked for a building, we would probably consider that to be an acceptable reuse of the building," he said.
Previous consolidation efforts in TPS have resulted in long-term vacancy at some former school buildings, but McCarthy offered several examples of how old schools have been successfully converted for other uses....

And in Obama's home state, his ex-aide seems to be pushing charters in the context of consolidation -- CPS brass considers school consolidation - Chicago Sun-Times

The discussion comes as Andrew Broy, head of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, complained that one dozen to 18 charter schools that share buildings with traditional public schools “are on the cusp of outgrowing their facilities and need a solution.” Consolidating an underused school into another school would theoretically free up a building for a charter.
... Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel is a charter proponent and has packed his education transition team with charter operators, funders and supporters.

Obama is not the first President to like charters. The DOE in 2004 reported on Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools -- TOC

Elements of effective charter schools and stories of eight successful charter schools are presented in this report, the third in our Innovations in Education series.

My thoughts are obviously going to focus on charters that emphasize technology, in a variety of ways. A charter that made heavy use of online resources might run into regulatory trouble, as seems to be the case Colorado Charter Schools: Blended or Hybrid?

There is a broad array of online educational options for students. The type of online education delivery models has changed as school leaders realize that most students, particularly at-risk students, do better with a combination of online learning and meeting face-to-face with a teacher. People call this either blended or hybrid learning ...
In Colorado, hybrid/blended schools cannot get funding to operate.
In Tennessee, there seems to be some experimentation in progress -- Memphis Parents May Have New Charter School Options
“[We want to] build a stem elementary school - stem meaning science, technology, engineering, mathematics,” Wingood said. "The design of this school will be to focus on science and mathematics, in addition to literacy and social studies and so forth, but with a real emphasis on science and math at an early age to get students interested in and excited about mathematics and science.”
It's a busy year for charter school applications in Memphis.
Charter schools are still public schools, but they often have smaller classrooms, and a specialized curriculum. The schools have been “very well received” across the state, ... “We have individuals that oppose charter schools or aren’t sure what they are, but when they open, [the schools] fill right up,” ... In Tennessee, local school boards authorize new charter schools, and funnel money to them.
As underused schools consolidate and people start charter schools, emotions rise in New Jersey -- NJ Spotlight | Newark's Public Schools: Overcrowded or Underutilized?
As much of Newark’s education and political community has gone into a tizzy in the last month over a plan to consolidate some of these schools and potentially move charters into others, these numbers lay bare the heart of the matter.
The bottom-line claim... on the consolidation plans: There is room to spare in the New Jersey’s largest school system, why not share it and save money at the same time?
But even in a district that has lost 5,000 students in the last 15 years and could lose another 3,000 next year alone to new charter schools, the discussion about whether there even is extra space is not a calm one.

Even after a transition, it's not necessarily clear which caused what. Lessons from Erie County's charter schools:

When charter schools came to Pennsylvania in 1997, advocates said school districts would make up any lost funds by not having to spend that amount of money to educate charter-school children in regular schools.
Erie School District officials said that's not the reality, and that charter schools leave the district at a disadvantage.
Local charter-school leaders say the opposite is true. They argue their schools have been doing more with less and avoiding the politics they say plague the Erie School District. Their success, the charter school officials said, isn't the reason for the school district's failures.

Well, maybe not.

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