Let’s not compromise kids’ future
August 21, 2003
Well, it finally happened. After a year of back-and-forth accusations of financial and ethical breaches, Prosser Creek Charter School lost its charter, and nearly 300 local students are paying the price.
Perhaps the decision was inevitable. Maybe debt that exceeds $3 million is too much to bounce back from in town as small as Truckee (even $1.5 million after a proposed debt restructuring plan seems tough – a lot of money to recover with such a small population of students); maybe Prosser Creek’s early money problems, inevitably had no plausible resolution in the eyes of our local school board, but lessons will be learned.
First lesson: A school district that stands to gain money (as much as $1.4 million by 2004/2005 from Average Daily Attendance state money if the approximately 300 students are integrated into district schools) should not be in charge of deciding whether that school should remain open. It’s just asking for problems, but that is up to the state.
Of course the school board is ultimately elected to decide on the best interests of the students and taxpayers, but conflicts of interest are sometimes undeniable, as school boards can be composed of traditional public schooling advocates. It is a problem that many charter schools in California (and elsewhere) grapple with, and it’s not fair. Charter schools have a legitimate place in every community, and deserve to be given independent oversight. Which brings us to the…
Second lesson: Throughout the process of Prosser Creek arguing its cause, and the school district grappling with the problem of debt, the district has promised it is serious about keeping the charter option open in Truckee. I guess we will learn if this is true.
The school district must help the next charter start, give it resources, and ensure it meets the strict financial requirements ahead of time. School budgeting is a complicated issue, and in hindsight, Prosser Creek should have known it had problems before they became critical. With proper auditing, maybe the school district could have caught the errors, and saved a lot of grief.
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Third lesson: Timing. You just don’t pull a school out from under children’s feet just weeks before the start of school. For obvious reasons, earlier deadlines regarding the charter renewal decision should have been adhered to. This situation has way too many parents scrambling to cram their kids into schools that may not be ready for them.
There is not a more sensitive subject in a small community than its schools, and that is why we empathize with the irate parents angry that the charter choice is being removed. It is also why we understand the school board’s decision.
Inevitably, litigation will arise out of this decision, but let’s hope the future of these kids is not compromised by bad decisions, both financially on the school’s part, and logistically on the school board’s part. It’s too important.