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,