Comstock's magazine 0419 - April 2019 - Page 54

n EDUCATION self-appointed boards. Traditional public schools are run by WHO SHOULD AUTHORIZE a school district, which is overseen by elected school board At the center of much of the turmoil around charter schools members who appoint the superintendent. — and calls for reform — is the competition for students “We’ve had some abuses — some real egregious abuses — among charters and traditional schools. This is core to char- in the past,” Garbolino-Mojica says. She references Tri-Valley ter schools’ intended purpose: A 1998 amendment to Califor- Learning Corporation, authorized by the State Board of Edu- nia’s charter school law describes an intent to “[p]rovide vig- cation after the Livermore district and Alameda County Office orous competition with the public school system to stimulate of Education initially denied its request. Tri-Valley ran two continual improvements in all public schools.” schools in Livermore, two in Stockton and one in San Diego. In Jared Austin, founder and executive director of Kairos 2017, Tri-Valley was investigated for alleged conflicts of interest Public Schools in Vacaville, sees competition as a positive among executives and diverting public funds. Tri-Valley had thing. Founded in 2014, Kairos now has nearly 600 students established a charter management operation through which in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade, with 500 CEO William Batchelor, a former investment banker, created on campus and the rest in its homeschool program. (Its wait- shell companies “to gain access to public taxpayer facility dol- list was 300 students in its first year.) “I think for schools, in lars and purchase property that was converted to private own- general, competition is good because kids win,” Austin says. ership,” according to an audit “Whether a kid gets into Kai- by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and ros or they don’t, I do believe Management Assistance Team. all schools are stepping up These purchases were their game and doing innova- made possible through two tive things because they don’t exempt bond issuances to- want to lose their students. taling more that $67 million. So in a way, [competition has] Batchelor was also accused worked. But I also think it’s of representing both sides of created a lot of strain with contracts and lease agree- districts and authorizers.” ments for his personal ben- Charters unavoidably efit — as the seller of build- draw students from the very ings and the owner of land school districts they rely purchased by Tri-Valley using upon for authorization. That’s public bond money. “So we a conflict of interest, Austin have private individuals that says. Districts may deny char- are profiting off of charter - Cindy Petersen, ters because they don’t want schools,” Garbolino-Mojica to lose students and the corre- superintendent/CEO, Gateway Community Charters says. Tri-Valley subsequent- sponding per-pupil funding. ly filed for bankruptcy and “It complicates things,” closed its schools. Austin says. “I think it would Although many charter advocates support SB 126, they be better if charters were able to be authorized through city remain wary of several other pieces of restrictive legislation councils or local community colleges, because city councils that have been introduced in a climate of heightened tensions and local community colleges know the needs of their com- from recent teacher strikes and rising pension costs. Teacher munities. They know what is needed for scholars to become unions have accused charters of harming traditional public college and career-ready, but they’re also not our competi- schools, and school districts express frustration that char- tion.” (County offices of education and the State Board of Ed- ters don’t have to pay into pension plans like the districts do. ucation can also authorize charters if the petition has been “We’ve had 16 years of two governors that were fairly denied at the local level.) supportive, fairly positive and allowed the charter school Through his role on the State’s Advisory Commission on movement to progress,” Petersen says, noting how both Gov. Charter Schools, Austin helps review appeals for petitions Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who served for two denied at the district and county levels, ultimately making a terms before him, were supportive of charter schools and recommendation to the State Board of Education. He’s seen vetoed bills that imposed limitations on them. “It is quite a the competitive dynamic firsthand. “A school may be trying shock after 16 years to see the position change as radically as to do right for the community, and their local district may it has and as quickly as it has.” be in financial hardship or may not be performing well, and “We’ve had 16 years of two governors that were fairly supportive, fairly positive and allowed the charter school movement to progress. It is quite a shock ... to see the position change as radically as it has and as quickly as it has.” 54 | April 2019