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Journal Star makes case against charter school, then endorses it

You’ve got to love the Journal Star Editorial Board. Only they could make a cogent case against something, then endorse it, defying all reason. That they would endorse the proposed charter school was a foregone conclusion. One is hard-pressed to think of any project supported by Caterpillar and/or the Chamber of Commerce that they’ve opposed.

After seven paragraphs outlining all the problems with charter schools (most don’t live up to their hype, the district is broke, private funding is unlikely to be sustained, etc.), they take all of two paragraphs to say, basically, “oh, hang the problems, let’s do it anyway!”

Nonetheless, we’re inclined to support this charter school, if not as enthusiastically as some would like. First, the investment is relatively small on a $140 million-plus budget. Second, this is an experiment worth trying, to see if charter school proponents can accomplish more for less cost-per-pupil, as they claim. Third, while some have noted the contradiction in opening a new school just after closing others, arguably this isn’t just a new building but a different approach.

Ultimately, we just can’t discount the frustration of parents who want to stay in the city but not at the expense of their kids’ future success. In many ways Peoria lives or dies on District 150. The locals have lost faith. Something must be done.

A relatively small investment? District 150 ended its last fiscal year $8.9 million in the red. $6.5 million of that deficit came from the education fund. With overspending that serious, the district should be looking at more cuts, not new expenditures. And make no mistake: the charter school is a new expenditure. Even ardent charter school proponents admit that the first few years will end up costing the school district until the district can consolidate and close another middle school.

Forgotten, it seems, is the fact that the charter school is not only a middle school. It’s planned to be a high school also. When it’s fully functional, it would serve grades 5 through 12. It would start in year one with grades 5 through 7, then add one grade each year. When the high school grades are added, how will the district recoup the federal and state money they lose? Close another high school? If so, that should be planned now, not reacted to later.

But reaction is District 150’s M.O., and charter school proponents know it. So they’re putting tremendous pressure on the school board to make another all-too-common hasty decision, before the board can fully consider the ramifications. They’ve contrived a crisis: “The Caterpillar grant is contingent on the District 150 Board of Education awarding the charter for the 2010-2011 school year at its first meeting in January.” Peoria’s mayor has met with the Secretary of Education, and now dangles the carrot of federal “Race to the Top” money for districts who have established charter schools. Ominously, this money is not guaranteed. A media blitz has touted the messianic nature of charter schools and implored citizens to demand one from the school board. No doubt many citizens, believing the ads implicitly, have complied — the same way they complied with requests from the same group to raise their own sales taxes one quarter of a percent during a recession.

There are good reasons the charter school proponents would want this decided now, and not next year. First, there’s the fact that property tax bills have not come out yet. After the electorate suffers the shock of seeing this year’s property taxes spike due to District 150’s seven-percent increase, they might not be as eager to demand the district spend money it doesn’t have. Second, a new, permanent superintendent will be hired by next year, and who knows what he or she may think of the charter school initiative?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that charter school proponents have the best of intentions. I believe they want to see the school district improved and children better educated, and I believe they think this is the best way to do it. But good intentions don’t make their plan wise or their tactics justifiable, nor does popular support make their plan more affordable.

In the end, the school board needs to make a prudent decision based on cold, hard facts and harsh, fiscal realities. The district can’t afford another impulsive decision based on flimsy reasoning like that of the Journal Star’s editorial board.

29 comments to Journal Star makes case against charter school, then endorses it

  • EmergePeoria

    CJ I understand you have a child looking at middle school next year. What middle school do children who previously attend Whitter attend? Would you personally be interested in school choice (i.e., Washington Gifted or the MSTA)? We are looking at middle school options in District 150 and find them scarce at best. This year is the turning point, as we are also seriously considering private school and/or moving out of Peoria all together. So I am curious what is going through the minds of other parents (with choices) who are getting ready for middle school.

  • I don’t see how approving a Charter School is anything other than the School Board and the administration on Wisconsin abdicating their responsibility and admitting THEY can’t do the job. If they REALLY believe Charter Schools are the way to go, why wouldn’t they give up the entire education system to private schools?
    Instead of running schools The administration will be supervising private schools…??? I honestly don’t get it.

  • TPBRicky

    Charter school, as everyone knows, is a done deal. We have a Bizzaro-type school board, where, given two choices, they ALWAYS choose the wrong one. It’s uncanny. I have a few concerns with the charter school concept; as a teacher, I’m sure it is because I’m “scared of competition and changing the status quo.” Wrong. I certainly can’t fault parents for wanting to put their students in a safe environment composed of motivated kids whose parents will be actively involved with their education and in a place where academic and behavioral standards will be demanded. Sounds great for those families and that is what our schools should be like. My problem is that now the scores generated by the charter school will be compared with mine [high school teacher] to show clearly that charter school students are receiving a better education and are being taught in a superior way. Wrong again – let me demand that my student’s parents be involved, that my students perform at a minimum standard and behave, or else, and then compare my numbers. [Which is what 150 used to demand, as all who have been here know. we stopped using MCE’s (Minimal Competency Exams for promotion), suspensions and consequences because this way is much easier and less confrontational] Be fair; compare apples to apples if you are going to hang me by my results. Obviously, those students who aren’t charter school material [as in they comprise the education for the rest of the class] will be shipped back to me, where they can basically do what and how they like and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it. Teachers are the whipping-boys for society’s ills; clearly somebody is to blame for dysfunctional America, and it must be the teachers, who whine and complain constantly while only working 6.5 hours a day and little more than half a year. Whatever. Charter schools are one more way to segregate the haves/have-nots and be justified by handcuffing the teachers of the difficult cases. 150 is once again weakening the many to prop up a few, further weakening the many. Heaven forbid that we would get an alternative school so our other schools could be, in effect, “charter schools.” That would make too much sense.

  • Less than half a year… 180 days, right? (just kidding)

    But TBRicky, don’t we have at least 4 alternative schools AND The Academy at ICC?

    Peoria Alternative High
    Regular Hours: AM & PM sessions
    Paul Monrad (309) 672-6823

    Adult Education Center
    – (309) 672-6702

    Developmental Center
    Regular Hours: 7:30 AM – 2:00 PM
    Karen Orendorff (309) 693-4424

    Greeley Regional Safe School
    Regular Hours: 9:15 AM – 3:45 PM
    Brandon Caffey (309) 672-6520

    Knoxville Center for Student Success
    Regular Hours: 8:20 AM – 2:50 PM
    Donna O’Day (309) 439-0000

    Robert A. Jamieson School
    Regular Hours: 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM
    Karen Orendorff (309) 672-6594

    Roosevelt Magnet School
    Regular Hours: 8:20 AM – 3:20 PM
    Magnolia Branscumb (309) 672-6574

    Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center
    Regular Hours: 8:35 AM – 3:05 PM
    Diann Duke (309) 672-6810

  • Good article, CJ, and good comments. Here’s a charter school alternative, as reported in todays NY Times:

  • Jennifer Brady

    A better concept for the first charter school in a community with such high poverty rates might be a K-4 school that immerses children in a culture of achievement from the beginning of their schooling. As chronicled in the book, Whatever It Takes, about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone “Promise Academy” (a great/must read for anyone interested in urban education), it is much easier to keep children on grade level than it is to bring them up once they have slipped below the standard. If PCSI does its job recruiting to families whose children are not making the grade, the school will have its work cut out for it getting those grades brought up.

  • Anonymous

    The Charter School proposal is just another magic bullet solution proposed by mostly individuals outside of the community who insist on treating Peoria Public Schools as their little social experiment. If they err in their calculations, as they have in the past, it will be no sweat off their back or harm to their children or property values, because those entities they have conveniently tucked away in Suburbia. Peoria parents and taxpayers, who are shut out of the process via the Peoria AREA Chamber of Commerce, will once again be holding the bag that contains the fall-out. Until these same “leaders” place responsibility on the appropriate parties (parents), and display the testicular fortitude and vision to instate effective policies that modify parental behavior and consistent expectations of ALL children, regardless of religion color or creed, the decline of Peoria Public Schools will continue.

  • Sharon Crews

    C.J. has it right again.

  • spikeless

    TPBRicky – I agree, at least in general, with the tenor of your comments. Unfortunately, I have concerns about the manner in which you expressed the same. While I’m aware that web posting tends to be somewhat non-formal, I would also hope that one who comments specifically as a teacher would be a bit more concerned with some standardization of structure.

  • Emerge asks, “What middle school do children who previously attend Whitter attend?” I don’t know the real answer to that, but I’ve heard anecdotally that many of them go to Washington Gifted, private school, or some other alternative, rather than Calvin Coolidge.

    “Would you personally be interested in school choice (i.e., Washington Gifted or the MSTA)?” I will avail myself of whatever options I believe to be in the best interests of my children and within my financial means, just like any other parent. The choice I unfortunately don’t get is a successful Calvin Coolidge Middle School.

  • Merle Widmer

    C.J., you and your commentors get it basically right. Read my blogs on the subject by typing my name in on your search bar and it will take you to merle widmer peoria watch.

    I plan to attend the school board meeting Monday eve and perhaps, speak.


  • Sharon Crews

    C.J., since I live in West Peoria, I am distressed that the West Peoria mayor and aldermen do not take any interest in pressuring District 150 to improve conditions at Calvin Coolidge. I wanted the West Peoria News (for which I write) to write opinions on controversial issues about 150. I was told that the mayor wanted to let Hinton do his job and he (the mayor) would do his. Unfortunately, so many in West Peoria with children have either left the city or send their children to private school. My friends live right next to the C C playground but their oldest daughter just finished at Washington Gifted and is now at Richwoods. From a money point of view alone, West Peoria should be complaining–so many here pay taxes to 150 but do not get the benefit. So many West Peorians and their children went happily to Calvin Coolidge not that long ago.

  • Ideally, I too would prefer a strong neighborhood school. I think the decision to send children outside of neighborhood schools really does hurt the neighborhood. Just on our block alone children attend Peoria Christian (primary and high school), Woodruff, Peoria High School, Glen Oak, Von Stuebin, Hines and Valeska Hinton. In the end, these children have very little interaction with each other. Unfortunately, there goes the neighborhood.

  • Stephen Scanlan-Yerly

    I wonder what Calvin Coolidge would look like if everyone in the neighborhood that it served actually sent their children there? What happens if children that come from families where education is valued actually interect with children that do not have all the same opportunities? What happens when the haves, who attend the many alternative schools, interact with the have nots that seem to fill 150? Strong neighborhood schools dont exist when the neighborhoods they serve choose not to send their children there.

  • Sharon Crews

    Stephen, ordinarily I would agree. What happened at Calvin Coolidge most recently was that a large number of displaced Loucks students were sent to Calvin Coolidge. When large groups of students come into a school all at once, problems happen. Also, Loucks was not strong on discipline, so these kids were used to behaving as they pleased. (Watch to see what will happen at Peoria High–maybe even Richwoods and Manual). I agree though–I wish that everyone had stayed put from the 1960s on, but–even as Frustrated stated–in later years families did look to upgrade their housing situation and move away from areas–it isn’t all about race. If everyone had stayed put when integration began, I believe we would be seeing a thriving school system right now–but that’s didn’t happen, so we have to go from where we are.

  • Stephen Scanlan-Yerly

    I guess what Im trying to say is people would send their children to 150 if it was a better school. Ok thats fine but how does 150 become a better school when the children that are going to make it a better district are going to alternative schools?

  • prego man

    Memo to Dist. 150:

    Hang it up. Your school boards and superintendents, over the past 30 years, have completely destroyed you —- there is no hope.

    Your school board at present is almost as dumb as any previous one. The only one dumber was the one that approved going to the middle school concept, thus destroying the neighborhood school forever.

    Nice job, school boards and superintendents. You have greased the slide that has now put Dist. 150 in the cesspool of public education.

    Hang it up. We will give you a fitting burial.

  • Sharon Crews

    Stephen: I agree totally–but it would take a concerted effort by all families–a few won’t turn the school around. This happened at Manual–about 10 West Peoria kids decided to go to Manual their freshmen year instead of opting for alternatives available to them. Then their junior year, the school became a Johns Hopkins school with a curriculum designed for students who read at 5th and 6th grade level. Those kids were cheated big time–their favorite teachers were taken away and they were miserable for their last two years of school.

  • Frustrated

    “Charter schools are one more way to segregate the haves/have-nots.” says TBPRicky.

    I would agree. But it is not about wealth, because pretty much all the wealthy families have already left the District. The “haves” in my mind are the students and families that are ready, right here and now, to take advantage of a more stringent educational opportunity. I understand RBPRicky’s frustration, but one way or another, the “haves” will leave if the District does not offer other options such as the proposed charter school. See Emerge’s comments above. If Emerge and her family are the “haves” you are referencing — I can sleep at night if Emerge has the inititive to apply to the new Charter School and her child has an opportunity for something better. That is the problem with the District, those families that have it together look around and scratch their head and say “what is in this for me?”, and they eventually exit.

    Even those schools North of W. Memorial are very mixed in terms of children’s academic ability and behavior. I remember my daughter’s 4th grade class (I think there were 23 or 24 students) at Kellar was a mess – 1 child with an aide, 2 or 3 others that could have used one, another ½ dozen lower performing students, ½ dozen in the average range, and ½ dozen students with well-above average academic skills. My daughter’s teacher that year was extremely capable, a seasoned professional – recognized as one of the leaders at the school but . . . at the end of the day, she was only one person, She simply could not offer a learning environment to meet the needs of so many varied learners in her class. I questioned her why, beginning in 3rd grade, the students could not be broken out (there were 4 classes in each grade at Kellar) into different reading and math classes to allow teachers to better target their lessons to address a particular learning groups’ needs. I also visited with the principal about this. At the end of the day, there seemed to be no upper level administrative support, and thus no principal was going to take that action on their own, for recognizing the times were (are) changing in the District and doing something different was essential.

  • Sharon Crews

    Frustrated: We agree. Trying to address such varied academic abilities in one classroom is impossible. Wholesale mainstreaming sounds like a great idea to some, but in reality everyone is cheated. I think it can be done in one building, but not in one classroom. This is my biggest fear–that Peoria High (to accommodate the Woodruff students) will have to mainstream the special ed students as Manual has done. Discipline problems will abound. If that happens, I can’t blame anyone who seeks educational opportunities any place except 150.

  • Stephen Scanlan-Yerly

    So it seems there is a chicken before the egg situation. All the haves will start sending their children to 150 when the have nots turn it around? Once all the current have nots start being competitive with morton, dunlap, ND etc…the haves can once again embrace 150. I mean Im no expert on this but wouldnt CC be in theory a good middle school in that it draws students from West Peoria and the wealthiest portion of Peoria’s west bluff? If it cant work how are schools expected to perform in worse areas of the city?

  • Sharon Crews

    Stephen, I agree–but the 64 thousand dollar question is how to draw the West Peorians back in to Calvin Coolidge. I wish I knew the answer. Frankly, I don’t think the academics have to turn around–just the discipline. Parents would just have to be guaranteed (as Frustrated has pointed out) that their children will be in classes with students at the same educational level. When that happens (again), then I believe that academics would improve, also. Kids being taught at their own level has to be a better idea than having a widespread of reading abilities, etc., in one room. Frankly, I think considerable social promotion is once again the norm for District 150. That practice got a kick start from Dr. Royster when she told principals not to hold any children back. That’s the year that Manual received many Blaine Sumner freshmen who couldn’t read at grade level.

  • EmergePeoria

    How much longer will we be blaming Dr. Royster for District 150. As long as we are blaming her, shouldn’t we also look at the BOE at that time? Who was it on the BOE at that time, Schock, Weiland, Mattheson, et al. Yeah, no, they bear no fault in this mess – it was all Royster. I get it, Royster was omnipotent.

  • Sharon Crews

    Sorry, Emerge, I am sorry to have raised that red flag. However, I do recall that I and others wrote to all those board members to tell them what was going on with regard to social promotion (of which they were unaware)–and they did take the action to which you obviously objected. The thing that has amazed and disappointed me the most is that almost all the questionable practices started by Royster were continued by the Hinton administration–there was really no change.

  • EmergePeoria

    Why were they unaware Sharon?

    Royster had a very vocal BOE that she answered to.

    Just like Hinton could only get away with what his Board let him – Royster was only able to get away with what her Board let her.

    By the way, I am not a proponent of social promotion.

  • inquiring mind

    hinton bullied board members to side with him on everything. I understand he would inundate board members with nonstop phone calls and emails, finally wearing them down. from what I have been told by former members, hinton would ridicule them openly if they didnt agree with hin and his proposals. another case of the tail wagging the dog….sadly

  • Sharon Crews

    Emerge, I strongly suspected that you were not a proponent of social promotion. Please believe me when I say how much I appreciate your input in these discussions. I always have to take a step back to analyze my own opinions, etc. I think we both (and all other bloggers) need to be as honest as we can and as introspective, too, to come up with possible solutions to the problems that plague District 150. I agree with you totally about this unfortunate relationship between all boards and all District 150 administrators in my memory. The boards choose the superintendents, so they usually stick with their choices through thick and thin. If you look at the early days of Royster’s superintendency, you will find strong support for her from the board–and from me as well. Also, as we have just witnessed (but it isn’t a new thing by any means; it happened with Harry Whitaker and with all superintendednts), the board relies on the the superintendent to give them information–they don’t actively seek other opinions. Quite honestly I think what happened for the first time in District 150’s history during the Royster era was that teachers decided to risk speaking out–first by writing to board members and then by going to the local media. All of this was before blogs, so we did not have that outlet. Jeff and I began the discussion about discipline and attendance problems in 150–and the PJS news staff and editorial staff wrote stories based on our information. After the first PJS story, the board did start to take notice and to conduct their own investigations. The social promotion issue was one that actually was full of intrigue and secrecy–my memory is hazy now, but there was something about a test (maybe social studies) that 8th graders had to pass before they could graduate. As I recall there was a todo about students who didn’t pass it but came to high school anyway. Do you really believe that the board would have noticed that no one failed 8th grade at Blaine Sumner that year? I’m not sure how many other middle schools, if any, did the same. I am sure none of that is pleasant to hear and you may have another side of the story to share. I think many of us really do want the best for 150, but to get there all these issues have to be on the table.

  • teachingrocks

    It saddens me greatly that we, in primary school, are working so hard to keep these kids in line and teach them how to behave properly. They are then sent to a middle school where, apparently, anything goes. I am truly heartbroken over what I hear happening at Trewyn, Calvin Cooldige, Lindbergh, etc. Someone, somewhere, with more power than I have needs to get these things under control. Why are principals who are so completely out of control left to run these schools into the ground?!? (It’s not always the middle schools either.)

  • strong1

    I don’t think it is always the principal (although…). One thing I do know central office has been told many many times that instead of starting new initiatives, the district needs to focus and do PD on behavior. They look at you like you’re crazy. Also, the director of SPED, Mary O’Brian, has not had hands on experience in an urban school and does not know what she is doing regarding behavior. She has taken away the power of principals regarding discipline. There is much more to all of this but this is a piece of the puzzle.