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Our View: Charter school trend doesn’t add up

Our View
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One of the hottest local trends seems to be getting your child into a charter school.
Auburn Union School District and the Placer County Office of Education are both on track to open new ones.
Statewide, charter schools have gained popularity since the 2006-07 school year. At that time there were 585 charter schools in the state. As of the 2010-11 school year, there are 919, according to the California Department of Education.
But why is there growing attention on creating charter schools to offer parents more options? What happened to staying focused on the public schools we currently have to make them better so parents don’t feel the need for an option?
There needs to be a shift in focus from racing to create a shiny new school with new gadgets to spending the money and effort making our existing institutions meet the standards parents, students, teachers and administrators want to see.
Locally, some administrators acknowledge that the system is set up to breed competition among school districts, and even within school districts.
Gary Yee is superintendent of the Ackerman School District and principal of Bowman School, the district’s lone institution. Bowman is a K-8 school with about 500 students. Yee said the charter designation means more funding and choice, but has a downside.
“Now with the charge from the state that they are encouraging more charters to come through, it is all about family having more choices,” Yee told the Journal this week. “The upside is you have more options for those families. The downside to that is it begins diluting what public school is all about.”
It begs the question: When does competition to offer the best alternative take away from making the existing choice better?
Within the past few years, E.V. Cain Middle School became E.V. Cain Charter Middle School. They took on a STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math, charter status and it made all the difference.
At the beginning of this school year, Principal Randy Ittner said enrollment was expected to increase to 752 from 741 the previous school year.
Ittner said the STEM status has allowed the school to get 30 new laptops and video cameras and elective classes. Charter funding also allowed the school to start clubs including multimedia video production, gardening and science.
Those are great additions to local public schools. The only issue is it shouldn’t take a special status designation to make it happen.
This week, the Auburn Union School District approved a new charter school to open at the former Alta Vista School site. The move was praised again as a way to give parents more options, and as a way to entice families that may have pulled students out of the district to return.
It’s a bad sign that our existing taxpayer-funded schools are not enough to keep parents in the district. There shouldn’t be a need for more choices and options. Unfortunately, it seems to be the way the state is pushing our districts to go as a good way to keep students around.
The new Alta Vista charter school needs 85 enrolled students to open this fall. Based on some parent comments about how hard they tried to get into Bowman Charter, it doesn’t seem like it will be hard to meet that threshold.
That average daily attendance money would be better spent pumped back into the district’s existing elementary schools including Skyridge, Auburn Elementary and Rock Creek.
Instead of this sense of abandonment to our current schools, there should be a focus on using funds given to charter designated sites to existing public schools.
Give local districts control and parents and students a good education, but don’t force them to fight against themselves and put one school down over the other.
Unfortunately, the system is not set up to support that common sense approach.

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More online
See a chart of the Auburn Union School District’s projected budget analysis for its new charter school at auburnjournal.com