Another View: Auburn's charter schools provide quality, alternative education choices

By: Daniel Berlant, guest columnist
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It seems ?charter? has become Auburn?s buzzword of the year. For school districts like the Auburn Union School District, a charter school provides additional funding possibilities, more educational choices for parents, as well as financial and program flexibility that traditional schools are not eligible to receive. Charter schools are not a new concept; in fact they were first authorized in California 20 years ago. More recently, the popularity of charter schools has skyrocketed. Not all charter schools are independent, high-tuition, private schools. For public school districts, a charter school is a tuition-free school that is governed by its own local governance council made up of teachers and parents. This allows teachers to be more innovative and to tailor education to the needs of their students. The decision-making power is given to local teachers and parents who know what is best for their students, rather then leaving those decisions up to bureaucrats in Sacramento. So, if charter schools are so great, why don?t all public schools move to charter? Like everything in life, it?s not that easy. The funding for charter schools and traditional public schools is calculated differently. Traditional schools? funding is based on past year?s attendance, while charter schools receive their funding based on current year?s attendance. While it may not seem like a major difference, it can mean a huge disparity in funding depending on a school?s enrollment and whether it?s growing or decreasing. In addition, the state offers grants that are only available to new charter schools to help them open their doors. This funding is not available to current traditional schools. These grants can often provide the extra boost to get a charter school off the ground and provide the programs most schools can?t afford. Besides the financial benefits, charter schools also allow for different types of instruction methods. Auburn Union sends its teachers to extensive training to learn different teaching styles to meet the many different needs of our students, but state standards and curriculum make it very challenging for our teachers. Under charter rules, charter schools are given the freedom to create their own education programs, instruction styles, materials and programs that best fit the school?s students. Despite unprecedented state budget cuts to education, the Auburn Union School District has worked hard to provide quality education. In 2010 we converted E.V. Cain Middle School into a charter school focused on 21st century skills including science, technology, engineering and math. Of course, our students still receive an excellent core education, but the flexibility of being a charter school allows us to offer advanced courses and enriching elective classes not offered by other schools. E.V. Cain Charter School?s students have excelled academically, well above the statewide average. As our middle school charter has flourished, we have looked for ways to make an elementary charter feasible. After much work from parents, teachers and administrators, the Alta Vista Community Charter School is preparing to open its doors next school year at the historical Alta Vista School off Lincoln Way. The Alta Vista Community Charter School will not be a typical neighborhood school. Instead, the school will offer an individualized inquiry-based program aligned with California Standards and 21st Century skills. Parents will have the ability to choose a hybrid model of classroom instruction with virtual and independent study. This means parents will have choices in their children?s educational program. When the board of trustees passed the charter petition for the Alta Vista Community Charter School it was based on the school?s attendance and budget being financially feasible. I encourage parents who want to learn more about the charter to visit our website or stop by our District Office at 255 Epperle Lane (behind McCaulou?s department store). We are currently accepting registration for the new school. While the word ?charter? may be a passing fad, a charter school in Auburn is good decision that provides for local control and a quality alternative education option for our community. Daniel Berlant is board president of Auburn Union School District.