Whether you embrace the charter school movement — or see these schools as unwelcome intruders that steal your students and siphon off funding — it is in the best interest of your school board to develop a positive working relationship with your community’s charters.
That was the message delivered at a Monday workshop led by Francisco Escobedo, superintendent of California’s Chula Vista Elementary School District, and Peter Fagen and Melanie Petersen of Fagen, Friedman, & Fulfrost, a legal firm specializing in education.
Although it’s never too late to reach out to charter school operators, a great time to start work on that relationship is during the charter approval process, panelists said. That is especially true if the school board is the authorizing body and works closely with charter organizers to ensure that their business and academic proposals are likely to succeed.
Such communications also could limit the risks that your school board will have to pick up the pieces if the charter ultimately fails financially or academically.
Another opportunity to strengthen your relationship with charter organizers is to offer to provide payroll, food, teacher training, transportation, or special education services for a fee, Escobedo said. Such collaborative business arrangements can expand day-to-day interaction between district and charter leaders, and it can help the school district to recoup some of the state funding lost to the charter.
“The charters often find they can’t do it [provide the services] and … they need a larger entity or system to help them, he said. “So creating that relationship with them is a critical way to build ties.”
It also can be profitable. In Chula Vista, Escobedo said, several charter schools pay between $800,000 and $1.6 million annually for services provided by the district.
To make any relationship work smoothly, Petersen recommended that a school district assign a single administrator to oversee coordination—both to keep an eye on the charter’s progress and to “ask about problems before they get out of hand.”
With charter school laws varying across the nation, some school boards will face greater challenges in working with their local charter schools, panelists noted. But there really is no option but to try. The number of charter schools keeps growing, and your children are going to be attending these schools
“It’s not an us vs. them situation,” Peterson says. “These are our community’s students, even if they’re going to another school. It’s your obligation to see that they’re going to get the best education possible … in a program that’s sustainable.”
And, to do that, panelists said, your school board has to be engaged with those schools.