Many parents came out to support the Highland Academy Charter School petition at last week’s Beaumont Unified School Board meeting. The only voices in opposition to a charter school coming to Beaumont came from the Beaumont Teachers Association’s President, Jody Behrens; Council Woman, and former BTA President, Nancy Gall; and a representative of the Classified Employee Union. Even they seemed to be in agreement with everyone else that the reason charter schools are on the rise is because our government schools are not meeting the needs of parents.
There was a focus on the GATE (Gifted and Talented) students and Mrs. Behrens encouraged the administration to find a way to support GATE students. The district receives state funds for each student who is determined to be gifted based on their results on a state test, about $50,000 annually. Governor Schwarzenegger authorized districts an option to add the GATE money to the general fund, BUSD accepted and no longer offers GATE programs
Anyone who has been following my blog knows I have been very vocal about what is happening to the GATE money. However, I think it is a mistake to think that if there was a full service GATE program in our schools that there would be no interest in charter schools. All parents believe their kids are special. They may not prove on a test they are gifted but we all feel our kids deserve the best. Parents are supporting alternatives like charter schools because we no longer feel our district is listening to us.
Mrs. Behrens expressed her concerns about a for-profit charter school. I’m not familiar with the details of Highland Academy’s petition but I do know something about the finances of our “non-profit” government school system. I know how much the superintendent and assistant superintendents make, well over six figures. I have a good idea of what our principals and teachers earn and I am well aware of the size of the government school employees’ retirement system. I have been unable to find the amount of the salaries of the public employee union top administrators but I am sure it is at least in the high six figures. It is obvious to me that for many in our state, the government schools are very profitable.
I advise Mrs. Behrens, and other union leaders, to avoid a financial argument. Most of us aren’t able to get tenure. Very few of us are able to negotiate automatic annual increases. And most of us do not have the rest of the taxpayers obligated to pick up our 401k and other retirement plans if they are mismanaged or if the returns are overstated. In today’s economic climate, claiming financial hardship is going to be a difficult argument to make against charter schools.
Our kids will be a lot better off if the stakeholders of our educational system, parents, teachers and administrators, will work together to find a way to fulfill the needs of our families. Charter schools have become a valuable asset to many school districts. The right program could be a great addition to our award winning school district. I hope our board and administration will work with Mr. Bishop to create something we can all support.