Equal Opportunity

The Corbett Charter School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational polices, admissions policies and athletic and other school-administered programs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Paying Our Own Way, and Then Some!

An Open Letter to Corbett Charter Parents:

We are entering the budget season, and money is in short supply. One result of budget pressures, and the accompanying stress, is that people are not always circumspect in their comments regarding whose job it might be to fix things. Because Corbett Charter School constitutes a third of the Corbett School District enrollment, it provides literally a third of the dollars that are spent on campus...a tremendous boon in hard times. But because it is new, it is being scrutinized as a source of even greater benefit.

What does Corbett Charter School bring to the District? Between rent and payment for curriculum and technology services, the Charter School pays about 23-25% of its total funding directly back to Corbett School District. The remainder of Charter School funding goes to staff, supplies and materials, audits, insurance, and such. We run a pretty skinny operation, as does the District.

Still, questions linger about imagined 'hidden costs' of the Charter School.

In an operation the size of Corbett School District, costs can be pretty difficult to hide! Could the District operate with a smaller support staff if not for the Charter School? It's hard to imagine how. In fact, the District has reduced support staff since the Charter School opened! Could it operate with fewer than one maintenance person, one grounds person and two custodians for the entire campus and grounds? Would it need fewer special education aides if not for the Charter? (All special education costs for charter students are the responsibility of their home districts!) Could there be fewer bus drivers? (No drivers were added, and if charter students are allowed to ride the bus, it is only because space is available on an existing route. I suppose it's possible that an extra 80 pounds affects gas mileage!) Fewer cooks? (Oh, Corbett doesn't hire cooks, just the same staff that operated the cafeteria and the Culinary Arts program prior to the establishment of the Charter School.) Both the elementary and secondary offices are staffed by multiple employees during their breaks from other duties, as neither office has a designated full-time secretary. Are there savings to be had by leaving offices empty? The charter school uses no district classroom aides, though charter students do require supervision at recess...along with the Corbett School students. But this was discussed as part of setting rents. Those rents are pure windfall for Corbett School District. Everyone recognized that at the time, which is why Gresham Barlow and Reynolds school districts hired a lawyer to research whether they could prevent the establishment of Corbett Charter. Today, as money is even tighter statewide, all of this knowledge can be too easily pushed aside in favor of wild hopes and wilder fears. Nobody who shares in the institutional memory of Corbett could fall victim to an alternative history of the past two years.

So regarding hidden costs: unless Corbett School District has hired ten or twelve new staff members at a cost of $50,000.00 each, strictly to deal with the new workload created by Corbett Charter School, then the Charter School is paying its way in spades.

But what of the hidden benefits of Corbett Charter School? Has anyone researched those? What about increased pay-to-play? (By over 30%) Would Corbett have fielded a football team this year without charter students? Would the face of volleyball have been different? The Dance team? Swimming? Basketball? Band? Volunteers at every single event? Donations to athletics? Several classrooms full of new furniture? (All grant funded!)

Students who took Spanish I, 10th grade English, Advanced Placement World History, Advanced Placement Calculus (ab or bc), or Advanced Placement Statistics took those classes from a teacher fully funded by Corbett Charter School, as did about 80% of students taking Advanced Placement English. To our mutual benefit, charter students also cross-enrolled to take AP Art, AP Science, AP Social Science, music, etc from District-funded teachers. What both student bodies gained was a breadth of offerings and opportunities that NEITHER could have afforded alone. This simply cannot be cast as anything but a net gain to every student and to their families.

Prior to the Charter, when Corbett had 170 students attending from other districts on inter-district transfers, bringing a million dollars a year to the operation, very few people were unable to cipher out the benefit. Those children took their places among our best students, our best athletes, our best citizens. The funding that they brought with them prevented Corbett from having to see some of the draconian cuts that our neighbors were making. When our neighboring districts chose, unilaterally and without so much as a consultation, to end that option, they inadvertently provided an impetus to the founding of Corbett Charter School. But somehow the Charter School students (many of whom are the very same young people!) are suspected of costing the District money? There is no logic to such a transformation of judgment. There is only a desperate and misguided hope that Charter School students can bear even more of the costs of operating the school district in tight times.

Corbett Charter School pays its own way, and then some. And it's appropriate that it do so. It is a privilege to be part of Oregon's finest school district. And here's the last verse:

Corbett Charter School is, by law, by contract, by mutual agreement and mutual benefit, part of Corbett School District. It simply doesn't do, during the budget process, to imagine that the Charter School is a foreign entity. It is not. Barely a year ago it was greeted as the rescuing Cavalry! It still is. It is cost effective, and its operation constitutes a significant net financial gain to the District, to the tune of nearly 10% of its general fund budget. Whatever potential shortfall the District is facing today would literally double without the presence of the Charter School.

I apologize to those of you who already knew all of this. But for those who are hearing that perhaps you are not doing your share as a charter community, it is simply not the case. I understand the temptation for people to wish it so, but wishing only goes so far. The facts say otherwise. Every member of the Corbett Charter School community can say with certainty that our presence in Corbett is a benefit to students whose numbers are far greater than just its own enrollment.

Times are hard. You will be asked to do more. But you will be asked, not told, with deep respect for what you are already contributing. And if you are unable to give more, nobody will forget that you have already done your share. And then some.

Warm Regards,

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Corbett Fiscal Miracle

This post might seem out of place on the Charter School blog. But I know that many charter parents have connections in the Corbett community and must be aware that there are questions in the community regarding why Corbett has monetary concerns. I want you to have clear, accurate information on which to form your own judgments.

Money for K-12 Schooling in Oregon is in short supply, and the situation appears to be getting worse year by year. Corbett School District, our sponsor, is having to make reductions of nearly $950.00 per pupil next year. That's a lot of money. It's very similar to the amount of the proposed operating levy that was defeated prior to the creation of Corbett Charter School. The Charter School has filled a tremendous gap, preventing unimaginable cuts that would already have been made if not for its existence. The District went to the community again for a levy this past May, again for a similar amount, and it too was defeated by virtually the same margin.
So the gap in funding from the state continues to eat away at Corbett's resources. It is once again time to either cut expenditures or increase revenues. And times like these always start folks wondering: "Isn't it the District's fault if it can't live within its means?" Well, the District always has and will continue to live within its means. THAT'S WHAT CUTS ARE! Cuts are reductions in expenditures in order not to outspend resources.

But still, why does Corbett have to cut so much? Doesn't that mean that better planning was needed? Shouldn't Corbett have been more efficient?

Not according to any realistic, number-based assessment. Not according to Multnomah County's independent Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission. Corbett voluntarily belongs to this watch-dog group, which is tasked with reviewing all municipal budgets in Multnomah County. They publish their results in an annual report.

Before we look at their numbers, it is worth noting the that academic programs at Corbett have been held harmless for the past five years, and college preparatory opportunities as well as the Culinary Arts program have prospered during that time. Corbett has avoided cutting a single day of instruction, ever.

According to TSCC, Corbett's per-pupil funding is the lowest in the County and far below the State average. According the their analysis, Corbett is spending $5800 per pupil on classroom expenditures. The next most efficient district is spending $6000.00, and the County average outside of Corbett is $6566.00, over $700 per student more than Corbett! Money not connected to classrooms is classified as 'Support'. Corbett is spending $2100 per student. THE NEXT LOWEST DISTRICT IS SPENDING $3900.00 (OVER 80% MORE!) AND THE COUNTY AVERAGE IS $4200.00, or DOUBLE what Corbett spends. Corbett spends over 73% of its budget on the classroom, and the next nearest district spends just under 63%. Corbett's total spending? $7900.00. The County Average outside of Corbett (without Riverdale)? $10,766 per ADMr.

On average, other school dsitricts in the county have one staff person for every 9.3 students. Corbett has one for every 13.36! They have 43% more staff!

Oh, and Riverdale is not included in these averages. Riverdale spends twice per pupil what Corbett spends, and so far as I can tell only about 20% of their funding comes from the state. Mostly they pay their own way. But they are a statistical outlier that would skew the data too far in the direction of my argument!

Our achievement for these deficient dollars? Riverdale is the only Multnomah County district that is mentioned in the same sentence with Corbett.

Those who suspect that Corbett's situation must be the result of some sort of management problem are right to wonder. But I suggest that they should wonder why it is that Corbett has available only about 75% of what other districts in the county are spending per pupil. And they might take a moment to wonder, even to marvel, that Corbett's achievement on that meager level of funding has been so extraordinary.

And if folks want to voice their concerns, I suggest that it be toward their legislators. They are the only ones who can change the legal funding formula that profoundly slights Corbett relative to the other schools in the state. It is unfair, and Corbett has been compensating for too long.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Corbett Charter Juniors Shine!

The PSAT exam is optional for Juniors. It is a good measure of progress, and it is the entry point for National Merit Scholar consideration, so we encourage participation among those who might show up well and perhaps win some financial support as a result. National Merit competition is fierce, requiring that students perform at the very top of their national cohort.

Corbett Charter School has already seen one National Merit Scholar and a National Hispanic Scholar in its short history. We have also had students who received commendations from The College Board for their exemplary work. This year (our second) is shaping up along the same lines, with at least one student scoring well enough for Merit Scholar consideration and others knocking on that same door. Nothing will be official until the Fall, but here is what we know now.

30% of Corbett Charter School's 11th graders took the PSAT, and their average scores placed them in the 90th percentile in the College Selection Index, which is a summary of their performance. (statistically, one would anticipate that the mean of the top 30% would be the 85th percentile). By subject area, they averaged in the 90th percentile in reading, the 88th in math, and the 87th in writing. In each case, their median score was actually higher than the mean, so we literally place more than our share of students among the top scorers in the nation.

Corbett Charter's top 10%? Each scored in the top 7% nationally...always taking a little more than our statistical share, even against the top students in the county.


P is for Potential...PSAT results are in!

Some of our students have been awaiting the results of their PSAT exams...these are the warm-ups to the SAT, the initial qualifying exam for National Merit Scholar recognition, and access to an amazing online tool for college information. All 10th graders in Oregon were scheduled to take them in October...not many schools will publish the results.

29 Corbett Charter 10th Graders took the exams, and their average scores were in the 67th percentile in Reading, 64th in math, and 72nd in Writing. (Average scores are, by definition, the 50th percentile). So when compared to all 10th graders nationally, the average Corbett Charter School score was roughly among the top one-third. That's fairly impressive, but this is Corbett! Because we love a challenge, shouldn't we compare them instead to the 11th graders around the nation who took the exam? Fewer 11th graders take the PSAT...11th grade is the year that taking the exam actually puts one in competition for National Merit Scholarship. So the bar is higher. And the students are a year further along. How did we do?

Corbett Charter's 10th Graders, when compared to the nation's 11th graders, posted an average score that was in the 52nd percentile...two clicks above the nation's 11th graders...just a year ahead-of-time. But let's face it, some of our students put more into it than others.

The top half of Corbett's 10th grade class posted an average that was in the 75th percentile nationally...still running neck and neck with students a year more advanced!

And the top third of the class? The 86th percentile...right about what one would expect if they were a year older! Our top 10%? They managed to squeeze into the top 6% among this year's Juniors nationally.

In all, a breathtaking performance, and evidence that challenging every single student to the utmost of his or her ability only makes good educational sense.

But a question remains: What does one do with a year's head start? Because that's what we're describing...a Sophomore class that performs like Juniors around the country. Time to coast? Be conservative and 'protect our lead'? We don't think so. Time to double up! Time to get to work. It's true that the heart of education shouldn't be competition...I believe it. But there is that one slice of life, when you are sitting at school waiting to hear back from the college of your dreams, when it sure feels like a competition. Admissions officers and scholarship committees are making decisions that look pretty competitive. So for the purest scholar, the one who cares only for knowledge and understanding, competition is part of the game for at least a few months. And since it is there, it seems only wise to win.

So to the Class of 2013, three things: Happy New Year! Congratulations on a job well done! Oh, and, Back to work!