My Turn: Charter school need to be able to stand up to scrutiny

Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2005

The parents and students of Juneau's public schools were granted a reprieve when the Montessori Borealis charter school applicants decided to not pursue resubmission or reconsideration of their charter application to the Alaska Board of Education for the 2005-06 academic year.

If the charter applicants had truly believed their application was 100 percent defensible as presented, they would have pursued reconsideration. Instead they will content themselves to take pot shots at me, and they and the district will continue to ignore the concerns we raised regarding equity and equal access. I guess they feel that playing ostrich will make us go away, back to whatever place in society the majority of the Juneau School Board and charter applicants seem to think is appropriate for minorities and disadvantaged as long as we don't question (make waves) or disagree with them, and consent to stay out of sight and accept whatever is occasionally thrown our way to pacify us as long as we bring a grant to pay for whatever is being thrown our way.

I still adamantly believe and will continue to advocate to push the Borealis applicants and the district to unequivocally demonstrate and document "no financial harm" to the rest of Juneau's public schools and children that any future charter schools will not create artificial barriers for disadvantaged and minority children's families such as remote locations, lack of public transportation and a lottery designed in secret that does not conform to state regulations before either can consider advancing an unopposed charter application. We won't accept anecdotal future assurances from the Borealis' budget committee or district administration like what was quoted by the Borealis Budget Committee at the April 5 meeting when they quoted the financial impact to the district at $34,000. At the last board meeting it was revealed that the cost to the district was closer to $130,000. Administration and the board should be forced by the public and Assembly to exercise financial due diligence that will stand up to public scrutiny before making decisions based on guesswork and soft moving targets.

The following is food for thought. Wherever the 2005-2006 Montessori elementary classrooms end up: 1) Will the building selected to house the elementary Montessori lose their Title 1 funding if it was previously a Title 1 school prior to adding the affluent Montessori families to the mix? 2) If a building does lose Title 1 funding, how does the district propose to mitigate the loss so that truly disadvantaged and minority students will not be adversely affected? 3) Will the Montessori classroom teachers continue to insist that they cannot comply with and should be exempted from conforming to building schedules? 4) Won't the Montessori teachers' refusal to comply with building schedules continue to cause dissension within the building and create a privileged attitude among the Montessori students and teachers over the main student body and regular classroom teachers? 5) Who will be the administrator for the middle school component? Will an already overworked administrator from Dzantik'i Heeni or Floyd Dryden be expected to step up to the plate and accept supervising and evaluating the middle school Montessori teachers who will be working at an off-site location? 6) How does Juneau's now apparent priority commitment to Montessori address the identified strategies of the district and fit within the overall strategic plan of the district? 7) Will elementary school site councils be consulted and given full disclosure of potential impacts before a Montessori is forced into an already burgeoning building since site councils are theoretically supposed to have some say about their building programs and setting building priorities?

I hope Juneau citizens, including teachers and administrators, will consider the above and decide to begin carrying their proportionate share of preserving equity, equal access for all and the integrity of their children's schools and programs.

• Juneau resident Edith McHenry is a former school board member. She has two sons who are Juneau-Douglas High School graduates and her youngest son will be a senior this fall.

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