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Commentary by Ken Pfalzgraf
| Monday, Aug 22, 2016

KenPfalzgraf2016For the better part of five years, I have been a regular – and often the only – attendee of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District (AADUSD) board of trustees meetings. In the past three years, I’ve watched the district go from teetering at fiscal insolvency to operating with an ample surplus, funded by income from a vast network of charter schools developed using processes that have yet to be legally or legislatively validated – much less understood by the district’s constituents.

In addition to providing an alternative for educating students who were not being reached by standard methods, the charter school movement started as a means of developing innovations that would ultimately benefit public education. The ever-increasing popularity of charter schools has fueled a nasty division between public schools and charters over funding and test scores. Public schools lose funding when a student leaves for a charter. Some claim that charters “cream off” the best students, leaving the public schools with artificially deflated test scores and an inordinate share of the cost of instructing students with the highest needs.

Legislative intervention may be necessary to balance the fiscal well-being of public schools and the educational innovations being gained through the charters. But for now, the courts and the Legislature are focusing on the outer fringe of the charter school game, the prolific charter authorizers who are in it for the money.

First are “corporations and corporate interests — which are not about improving academic outcomes for students, but about maximizing revenues for the benefit of management’s personal wealth and/or to fund future growth” (see No. 1 below). Then there is the small, “cash strapped” school district struggling to maintain its market share of local students and looking to recoup lost funding by taking a cut off of the charters it sponsors elsewhere.

California Sen. Carol Liu recently requested to have three of California’s 997 school districts audited by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, stating: “There have been accusations that some districts are authorizing in order to generate revenue through ‘oversight fees.’ Several extreme examples of this include Acton Agua Dulce Unified which has only four (actually three) traditional schools but authorizes 14 various charter schools, most outside the district. One of the district charters, Assurance Learning Academies, is located almost 60 miles away in Los Angeles. That school has significant academic issues including 91 percent of students not meeting standards in math” (2).

What happens to the fiscal stability of AADUSD if a legislative change wipes out the recent charter-generated windfall or if the few employees, past or present, who actually understand how the plan works take their ball and head off to another game?

With a California state auditor headed to AADUSD to have a closer look (3), does anybody else think it might be time to turn the focus back on the local students and fiscal self-sustainability?

 

Ken Pfalzgraf is an Acton resident and a candidate for the AADUSD Board of Trustees.

 

(1) https://www.csba.org/Newsroom/CSBANewsletters/2014/June/InPrint/VantagePoint.aspx

(2) https://www.dropbox.com/s/u9ow70cboesic46/Liu%20documents%20audit.pdf?dl=0

(3) https://www.dropbox.com/s/wnmutmeczab1w57/Charter%20audit%20methodology.pdf?dl=0

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Joe says:

    You neglected to mention that charter schools are public schools and offer parents an alternative to district run education.

    • Ken Pfalzgraf says:

      Certainly not wanting to get into a last word contest here but my piece makes several references to the educational innovations coming out of charter schools. I think the sheer number of students attending charters is a clear indicator of a demand for choice as no one is forcing anyone to attend a charter in lieu of a traditional public school. In fact, one of my children attends a charter school. Likewise, this is not about all charter schools or public schools being one thing or another. This is about 3, again 3, school districts out of 997 (that’s 3/10ths of 1 percent where I come from) being looked at for a suspect process. Problem for me is that one of the three, or 1/10th of 1 percent of all school districts in the state, is the district where I live and where I am a candidate for the board. In other words, what Lee Jenkinson said.

  2. Lee Jenkinson says:

    As always, a potentially good idea is abused by those in charge for personal gain. It sounds as if legislation to tighten up oversight and practices is overdue.

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