I've been drafting this post for some time, when I saw this today in the Tribune. (It's next to impossible to find anything education-related in the DNews since they've redone their website--if there is any education reporting going on over there anymore at all.) The Granite District just chartered a high school for refugees. Well, that undercuts my point of this post at some level, since they are following my advice before the post went up, but it also strengthens my argument, and I hope that other districts will follow suit.
If I were the King of a growing school district (which is most of them in Utah) I'd be a leader in charter schools. Chartering by districts is a win-win-win situation. I hope more districts will break free of their entropic (spell check tells me this isn't a word, but I'm using the adjective form of the noun "entropy," meaning the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system) morass.
Here's my ideal scenario, and this could work in any growing district in the state. First, identify a non-growing area of the district. For Canyons, this would be Cottonwood Heights or Midvale, where the school-age population is shrinking, in Alpine it would be older sections of Orem. Most districts, even large and growing ones, have such pockets of stagnation or shrinkage. Districts deal with this by transporting students from higher growth areas, at great expense to the district, to older schools that aren't at capacity.
Second, pick one of the dynamic and innovative principals working in the district. Give that principal carte blance to design the ideal school. Pretend that union rules don't apply (they don't), that district policies don't apply (they don't either), that you have a blank slate on which to design the perfect school. Shoot for the moon. Get really good people to serve on the school's board.
Now comes the hard part. Close that shrinking school as a district operation. I know that would cause some consternation among the neighbors, but remember, I'm the King. I can do this by divine right. And it wouldn't be so bad, anyway, because any student within two miles of the school would get preferential enrollment in the charter, if they choose to attend it. Many will, many won't. Those that don't will get a bus ride to another district school.
Charge this new charter school the one percent authorizer fee that's authorized by statute. Also, charge the new charter school a market rate for rent on the older school building they occupy. This is pure profit to the district, since the building was bought long ago and the bonds have already been paid off. Also, my district would be the new charter's business office, again at a reasonable, market rate.
In case you missed how this is good for my district:
- I've reduced the rate of growth in my district to a more manageable level by shifting students to a new charter school
- I've turned a money-neutral asset into a revenue generating asset by leasing an under-occupied, older school building
- I've increased my per-student funding by taking advantage of local replacement funding and allowed my locally raised property taxes to educate the fewer students enrolled in my district
- I've further increased efficiency for the district by sharing the job of business management and oversight with a service contract and authorizer fee
- And most important, I've empowered one of my star leaders in the district to innovate and provide a working model for educational options that, if they are successful, we can implement across the district.