Monday, February 29, 2016

Guilty plea good reason to reform charter school process |

Guilty plea good reason to reform charter school process |

A union for charter school teachers?

There’s a whole lot of shaking going on as the long-simmering tension between school districts over charter schools seems to be coming to a boil.
The guilty plea this past week by charter school broker Steve Van Zant to a conflict-of-interest charge is a symptom of broader issues with the law that allows school districts to authorize charters in other school districts.
Some across the state want to tighten up that law, suggesting there are loopholes that are allow for abuse. Even the California School Board Association is now making such noises, clearly wanting to draw a distinction between those who establish and run charters properly from some bad actors.
More than a few folks in the traditional educational industrial complex would even like to do away with charters altogether. A nascent initiative effort in San Diego’s North County seeks to repeal the California Charter School Act adopted nearly 25 years ago.
Charters aren’t going anywhere, though that’s not to say there won’t be some changes in the system. Many are innovative and with admirable academic records — some traditional schools are borrowing their ideas to keep from losing students. Further, there’s a big push by billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad and others to vastly expand charter schools in Los Angeles.
The California Teachers Association and other unions are watching all these developments closely. Unions along with many in the education hierarchy still chafe at the autonomy of charters.
Charter schools were freed from many state education regulations and union rules to allow for flexibility and innovation in return for improved academic performance. The first happened, but the results have been mixed on the latter. Nevertheless, the growth of charters has been astounding, and threatening to districts. In Escondido, a 12 percent drop in enrollment has been partially attributed to charters; in San Diego Unified, 20 percent of students are in charters, a figure expected to rise to 30 percent in a decade.
That’s a lot of teachers and as time has worn on it’s clear that some are looking longingly at the benefits and job protections obtained by their counterparts in traditional schools through unions.
It may be tough for the big expansion Broad envisions to happen if the unions up there resist. But there’s been quiet talk among union types about finding a way for teachers in charters to organize to some degree. That would be fertile ground for the CTA and its local branches and, if it’s something the charter advocates can live with, a big expansion for them.A union for charter school teachers? 
Guilty plea good reason to reform charter school process

 Charter schools are a big deal in California, educating nearly 600,000 students this school year. But they shouldn’t be a big business.

Yet that was the goal of Steve Van Zant, who helped set up 13 independent-study charter schools in other districts from 2008 to 2013 while superintendent of the Mountain Empire Unified School District in a remote corner of East County. He did so under an arrangement in which he got 5 percent of the revenue from each school Mountain Empire authorized — a deal that gave him an incentive to keep authorizing new charters whether or not they were well-run and had competent administrators and teachers.
Last week, Van Zant pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating state conflict of interest laws. He will serve 30 days of home confinement and reimburse Mountain Empire for his charter bonuses; he also was required to resign as superintendent at the Sausalito Marin City School District, where he has worked since 2013.
This prosecution may set a deterrent that makes such illicit maneuvering less likely in the future, but that’s not good enough. We need the Legislature to tighten accountability provisions for districts that authorize charter schools. Many charter school advocates support reforms — so long as they don’t morph into another of the periodic attempts in Sacramento to undercut the charter movement. That’s a reasonable starting point for fixing what the California Charter School Association calls a “broken authorizing system.”Guilty plea good reason to reform charter school process |