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Charter Commission Vote: 'Lakeside' CharterGeddon Portents Community Strife

CharterGeddon: Watch out as the parallel school system unfolds in a unique way near "Lakeside."

What I’m seeing and hearing in DeKalb, particularly in relatively “successful” school zones, is that folks may empathize with logical reasons not to expand the charter school approval process, but in this county, “something, anything” must be done to “improve” schools. Apparently that would include using local public funding for a less than slam-dunk alternative education mode—with no controls on the numbers of new schools that would be authorized under the proposed charter school commission Amendment 1. There are other uncertainties to the aggressiveness of a return to a charter school commission—understand this point—such will be newly armed with 100% (local and state) funding, unlike its relatively “tame” predecessor (struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court). Like with TSPLOST, what is seemingly an emergency would have us ignore our reasonable concerns over governance and practicality to throw a bunch of crap against the wall to see what sticks. Another metaphor can describe our lack of recourse if “stuff” gets too messy: this toothpaste will be impossible to put back into the tube.

What might happen “on the ground” in the I-85/Briarcliff/Lavista Corridor, Chamblee and Dunwoody communities (all relatively affluent with “performing” schools) however, might deserve a different sort of consideration in our voting decision. Lakeside’s zone even differs from the others because we have no experience forming “government” (conversion) charter schools, so “privatized” school ownership will likely see a stronger push here. In the event of Amendment 1 passage, our experience with the so-called “brain drain” from neighborhood schools to Kittredge and in turn, non-lottery winners to private schools portends potential school destabilization and neighborhood political dissention. First, private profiteers will descend on area stakeholders to sell the opening of schools in numbers that won’t be seen in lower income areas because, as the data shows across the nation, affluent privatized schools (like traditional public schools) are unsurprisingly the ones that succeed. This makes common sense for many reasons that have gotten plenty of coverage, but not the least of which is the quality of charter school governing boards. Since we in this area have enough history with student “flight” to more homogeneously populated schools, the ascendancy of (fully funded) charter schools is a fait accompli to be pushed by small groups of stakeholders (mostly young parents). They will be helped by the charter management companies holding small meetings with residents, much as real estate developers do today. In fact, many charter schools are real estate interests, whether leasing or building after land sales.

First, out of the starting gate, if a successful vote loosens the local school board’s historical grip on converting neighborhood schools to charters, then the internal debate and organizational efforts in our schools will be manifest and not easily resolved. Second, as those debates rage among large numbers of stakeholders, small groups will be organizing to recruit the privateers and transfer land. Third, the charter commission will likely see the first challenge to its ill-defined procedures and unfortunate rush into the full-funding business—that of a lack of appeal process on the basis that an unrepresentative private group is trying to determine the fate of a “public good” with public funds. Fourth, how many charter schools will be desired to placate the interests of so many families as lotteries are overrun with applicants? Note: this will be “Kittredge on steroids” because there are no student qualifications for attending the schools save residency in a represented “community” (a vague construct)—ANY student can apply. The dynamics with private schools will also be magnified since so many people will at this point be entitled to full-funded “choice”. In fact, I foresee a renewed vigor for private school vouchers BECAUSE public school choice will be slow to develop.

This CharterGeddon is a nightmare scenario that one has to hope will be managed well by very smart and reasonable people. We have shown ourselves to be smart, but we are also activist and factional. The first evidence of this will be whether PTAs and school foundation will be able to gain consensus on conversion charters. If not, it’s open season for the vultures.

Vote carefully my friends—from the scenario above, it should be evident that a vote to (possibly) improve DeKalb and state education is NOT the same thing as voting for the Lakeside zone.

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Cheryl Miller October 19, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Voting for the Lakeside zone?
Tom Doolittle October 21, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Cheryl, I'm not sure I understand the question, but I'll take a wack at a reply. A vote "for" the Lakeside zone would involve the peculiarities of the charter commission expansion of charter schools that the Lakeside zone will be unique to this area. (note: they will expand in numbers because they will now be 100% funded). There will be community strife here that might not happen elsewhere. --First: Charters will be viewed as Kittredges--attractive for escapees. --The interest in "fleeing" our traditional schools has increased as the area has become more economically and ethnically diverse (any intellectually honest person would admit this). --Any number of companies will chomp at the bit to be here (as opposed to failing areas)--as many schools can open as there is demand for exclusivity. --The activists that we are will invite this to happen (but we won't agree)--we can't even agree on what consitutes "community"--required for an application to the commission. Who will appoint themselves to represent you? --When our traditional schools empty out leaving only the kids that can't get transported to new schools or those with parents that don't know the new schools exist-- because the new commission has no defined limits on the number of new schools in each so-called "community", what happens with those schools? In short this will be ground zero for the cluster f--k that is an unaccountable commission for a new parallel school system--armed with 100% funding.
Tom Doolittle October 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM
My letter to AJC: In his Sunday opinion, Kyle Wingfield may have been correct that public school leaders are more comfortable asking for more money than creating alternative learning environments, but communities and individual schools produce alternatives with sweat and love--and inversely may not be very comfortable with private school operators. In my neighborhood, a relatively affluent area with surprisingly high numbers of low income students, parents and teachers recently earned the right to operate the second Georgia STEM school (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). STEM schools are expected to proliferate as long as communities have the "bones" to put them together and don't take the easy way out with new privatized charter schools. Like conversion charters, which are operated by local school systems (not profiteers), STEMs require no additional public funding. Georgia should be maximizing specialized traditional public schools and minimize privatized charter operations. The entry of private companies may be needed in under-performing areas that don't have adequate community support, but that really isn't the market that will be assailed by private operators, is it?
Tom Doolittle October 23, 2012 at 05:43 PM
From Dunwoody Crier: A couple of concerns - we currently have a law in Georgia which affords an appeals process to petitioners who have been denied a charter by a local board. Why isn't this adequate? The enabling legislation, HB 797, allows charter petitioners the option to declare a state-wide attendance zone and submit directly to the 7 member appointed commission. You may not feel that you have a voice with your locally elected school board ( maybe you are on the school board?) but I can guarantee that you will not have a voice with the Charter Commission. Why is this a beter option. What does the 7 member commission know about the hundreds of communities around Georgia? How are they supposed to determine if the petitioner is actually filling a gap in the local community? What recourse does any taxpayer have if a petitioner wants to compete with a school that is not failing? How many "competing schools" can our taxes subsidize? There is nothing in HB 797 which specifies where state schools can be set up. What is the budget for state charter schools 5 - 10 years down the road? Where is the money coming from? Who will monitor the schools? None of these questions have been answered in the legislation or by our legislators or governor. I don't like writing blank checks. The devil is in LACK of details in the case of Amendment 1. I will be voting NO.
Tom Doolittle November 17, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Note--my point is only that we would immediately see the talent and activism of this area result in charter applications here--and lots of them. Not that they aren't viable and valuable if targeted and surgically applied. However, the law of diminishing returns applies when the stability of the community and its traditional public schools becomes threatened by large numbers of mainstream families vacate our current schools. Clearly, from the school's website, this school has been a while in the making by extremely well-credentialed people. Today's announcment: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/group-hopes-to-start-charter-school-that-mixes-aut/nStZJ/ http://www.tapestrycharter.org/board.html (impressive board of directors--I know two)

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