By Lora Scripps
Athens City school board members unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that opposes the creation of charter schools in Alabama.
The resolution states the Athens City Board of Education objects to the charter school provisions set forth in House Bill 650 pending in the Alabama Legislature.
Charter schools operate with public money, but without the same requirements as public schools. A charter school bill, HB-650, is now making its way through the state Legislature. It would authorize 20 charter schools in the state. The bill would give the state board authority to establish a charter school in any district with a single “persistently low-performing school.”
“They (lawmakers) have made a lot of changes in the original charter school bill up to this point,” said Superintendent Dr. Orman Bridges Jr. “However, there is still a lot of ambiguity still left out there with it.”
Bridges said he is most concerned with public funds that are going to be expended for charter schools, whether the schools are local or not.
“Right now they talk about local funds, and I have a problem with local funds going to the charter schools,” he said. He also fears at some point funds may start coming off the top.
“My fear is even though they have gone from 50 schools down to 20 schools in the state and only being from local funding, once they get their foot in the door, that could be changed to go back to 50 schools,” Bridges said. He added he also had a problem with the governing body being taken away from local schools and districts.
“The very fact that the state is considering charter schools is an admission that the current system is flawed,” Board President Russell Johnson told The News Courier before the meeting. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to give all local school boards the same flexibility that charter schools will offer a few select locations? There is a lot of money coming in from out of state pushing for charter schools. Why would these out-of-state parties be interested in charter schools that they would spend so much money lobbying our legislators?”
If the bill passes, Gov. Robert Bentley, a charter school supporter, could sign it into law.
Johnson mentioned the School Flexibility Act of 2012 that would give public schools much of the same flexibility afforded to charter schools. However, he said the bill has not been introduced yet.
“I don’t know if it will,” he said. “However, it’s a start.”
Uniform school start date
The board also cited opposition to a bill mandating a uniform school start date. It says school systems in Alabama could not start school until Aug. 20 and would have to be finished before Memorial Day, May 28.
“To get 90 days between that day and the Christmas holidays, which is what the high school needs with a block schedule, would mean if we did not take Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Veterans Day off, we could not dismiss school until Dec. 23,” Johnson said. “That is without taking any holidays.”
Johnson said before the meeting, “This is yet another case where the state is removing the ability of local school boards to make decisions that are best for the communities they serve. This bill is being advertised as an economic bill to increase the length of the tourist season. I believe it will have a negligible effect. Families that are going to take vacations will work them into their summer plans.”
Adding more weeks to the summer break would not add more families that are going to take vacations, he said.
“All this bill is going to do is spread the tourist dollars over a larger time frame,” he said.
Donna McDaniel, legislative committee chairwoman for Athens City Educators, said on behalf of the teachers she wanted to thank the board for the resolution opposing charter schools and their fight against a uniform school start date.
“I think you have done an excellent job for what you had to work with, and we do appreciate it so much,” she said. “At least we go on record saying this is not good for public education.”