A response to Red Rock Academy’s FACT CHECK
We would like to discuss the points in this post, one by one. There are certainly facts in this list that we have no issues with, but other items are certainly more controversial and need more than a single-sentence sound bite to understand.
These are the ‘truths’ in Red Rock Academy’s FACT CHECK post:
1. Moneys for charter schools pass through the district first, who take an administrative percentage and special education amount.
…just like public schools.
2. Charter schools (Red Rock Academy) are FREE public schools, open to all students. By law they admit any pupil, including special needs.
…until the school is full. This is different from public schools in that public schools may be forced to expand beyond their capacity until the need for the new school is clear, while enrollment for the charter school has a fixed upper limit. With respect to special needs students, charter schools provide exactly the same level of services to special needs students as the existing public schools do. If the local public schools are unable to provide a full-time interpreter for a hard-of-hearing child, then the charter school will also be unable to.
3. Red Rock Academy pays for the building, not the district or town.
To build the Red Rock Academy school facility, money from the per-pupil funds will be used to pay for the mortgage after construction. This is the same money that is used to pay teacher salaries and benefits, update existing school facilities and infrastructure, and pay utility bills. Let’s work through some of the math – we’ll use approximations that will illustrate the point. If the school opens in fall 2012 with approximately 360 students, then at approximately $6100 per-pupil from the state, RRA will receive on the order of two million dollars (after the administrative cut from the district, whatever that percentage is.) The construction of facility will cost about five million dollars, which will be financed over 25 years. The expected annual payment for the first stage of the new facility will be on the order of $430,000. Averaged over the life of the loan, this means that roughly half of that payment – $215,000 – is not going to Colorado schools, but instead, to the bank or institution that holds the loan. After two years, stage two of the school will be built for an additional three million dollars, with a new annual payment of $717,000. Over the life of this loan, approximately nine million dollars in interest will be paid to a bank instead of using those funds to reinforce existing schools. This is our state and local tax money, intended for education.
This statement could be rephrased more understandably as “Red Rock Academy will pay for the facility using per-pupil funds.”
4. All state and federal education standards apply
We would certainly hope so. We know that this is not necessarily the case in other states.
5. They provide a choice in education for parents.
Yes, this is a true statement – if the school was built, it would provide parents a choice in education for their children, just as the construction of a new coffee shop would provide people a choice of what coffee shop to go to every day. The problem we have with the Red Rock Academy choice is that once the school is at capacity, it is no longer a choice for area parents.
The strongest argument that charter schools try to make is that parents have a right and a responsibility to this choice. This, of all of the arguments put forth by the charter school, is the hardest to argue, because we as parents always want the best for our children. However, we already have choices. If we are dissatisfied by our local schools, we are free to choose to enroll them in a different area school (in- or out-of-district), home school, or even move to a different district. Students in the communities around Berthoud are welcome to attend the Berthoud Public Schools under the School of Choice / Open Enrollment program in the Thompson School District; while requests from in-district students are considered first, if the school has the staff and classroom space for the out-of-district student, they will be allowed to attend. Given the under-utilization of our schools, this should seriously be considered as a choice for parents unsatisfied with the state of their local public schools. If out-of-district parents are interesting in having their children attend Red Rock Academy, why not then have them enroll in our exceptional existing schools instead?
‘Providing a choice’ is the battle cry of the pro-charter school movement simply because it’s so difficult to reject without offending someone individually. If you’re against the charter school, then you are ‘taking the choice away from the parents.’ One alternate response is our first one – it’s only a choice until the school is at capacity. Another response is that by choosing to create a charter school, parents are choosing to not participate in the process that leads to real change in existing schools. Yet another response is an analogy: it’s as if people decided that it is also their choice to keep the tax dollars being used to fund public transportation and buy a car with it instead. We realize, however, that we can accomplish far more together than we can apart, and splitting up the schools into yet another piece may have serious consequences to not only Berthoud but the surrounding communities.
The second part of FACT CHECK is a list of how the charter school would help Berthoud and the Thompson School district:
• It will bring out-of-district students (nearly 250 thus far) and therefore needed additional funds into the district (in Colorado the “money follow the student”).
If we understand the way that per-pupil money is provided to the schools, only a small fraction of this funding (2%) goes back into the district for administration. The rest stays with RRA to cover the mortgage, teacher salaries and benefits, and so on. How will this significantly help the district? Also, given that the Red Rock Academy budget assumes that the school opens in Fall 2012 with 360+ students, is there sufficient confidence in the ability to get those numbers with more than 100 (in specific grade levels) to go?
It is important to realize that yes, the money follows the student, and therefore it comes from somewhere. It comes from the local schools in the towns all around the Berthoud area. These schools will be hit very hard by the loss of so many students, and may result in school closures in their districts. These schools will be unable to even try to compete with the charter school due to the massive reduction in funding. When a rural town loses its school, it loses its identity and instead becomes a collection of residents. Red Rock Academy will be serving students away from their hometowns, and those towns will lose their sense of identity and pride when their schools suffer. Build the school closer to the parents who want it, and the towns survive. It’s not just about how the school will affect Berthoud, it’s about how it will affect ALL of us as a northern Colorado community.
• Approximately 80% of the “Letters of Intent to enroll” received thus far are from outside of Berthoud, which means minimal effect on Berthoud schools.
If RRA has 250 ‘intent to enroll’ forms, and 20% are from within Berthoud, that means fifty students. At $6,137 each, this means that our Berthoud schools will have a funding reduction on the order of $300,000 next year. How is that a minimal effect? That’s salary and benefits for 5 teachers…and that’s only half of the capacity of Red Rock Academy when it opens. Also, realize that Turner Middle School and Berthoud High School are both at approximately 60% capacity. We know that the district is already considering closing schools in order to meet their budgetary requirements, and when a school falls below 50% capacity, it becomes a prime candidate for closure. Do we want to trade one of our existing schools for Red Rock Academy?
• Those driving from outside Berthoud will bring tax revenue to local businesses.
Red Rock Academy is planned to be constructed in a very unique location, near where three school districts have borders (Thompson, St. Vrain, and Weld RE5J). Of the communities that will potentially be feeding students to the new charter school, very few will require driving through Berthoud to get there. Most will arrive from the north or east, and then return without necessarily spending money in our local area. Certainly, the closer businesses are to the charter school, the better their chances of improving business. I was driving through Longmont on Saturday and saw the owner of a small art gallery standing in the doorway of the empty shop with his hands in his pockets, looking one block east at the scores of cars travelling up and down Main Street without any turning past his storefront. Unless businesses are where the traffic is, tax revenues will not be on the rise. Can our existing local businesses afford to move?
Driving time from Mead to RRA is approximately 18 minutes. From Johnstown, 19 minutes. From Milliken, 26 minutes. Unless the parents already commute along Hwy 56, this drive will need to be made four times a day, every school day of the year. Considering both the time commitment and the cost in gas/wear and tear on the vehicles, how long will this continue? Certainly the goal is to bring those families into Berthoud, but with the economy in such terrible shape, that goal may take a very long time to reach. How will these families move when their schools are in tough financial shape, and the property values sink in their hometowns?
• The school will not open at full capacity for several years giving newly planned subdivisions time to develop.
It will take more than several years for subdivisions to develop in this economy. It also seems vital to the success of the school that it is as full as possible at all times, otherwise it becomes more and more difficult to pay the bills. Once the supply of students has been exhausted at the smaller towns in the area, and their schools have closed due to lack of funding and students, where will they continue to come from? Will parents of students move to the new development, or will they stay where they are, under water in their existing home, unable to sell with the housing market so out of balance? We have subdivisions in Berthoud that have completely stagnated, as well as numerous homes that are on the market.
• It will add to the “great schools” reputation of the town.
Perhaps. There is no guarantee that Red Rock Academy will be academically as successful as existing schools in Berthoud, and there’s also no guarantee that our outstanding schools will all still be standing after the financial impact of the charter school is felt.
• Red Rock Academy would bring in jobs to Berthoud.
This is true, as the school would need an entire new staff. Perhaps they would be willing to hire employees laid off from Berthoud schools as funding drops? With a cut in salary, of course, since their budget does not allow them to offer the same amount they were making before.