The recent revelations concerning the operations of New Hope Charter School and 3Cord, Inc., the firm that controls its finances, illustrate the need for real school reform in this community and across the nation.
As I have said before, charter schools and school choice on its surface could be an integral part of necessary school reform if they are conceived and operated in a manner that is truly committed to offering our students viable alternatives to the current, one-size-fits-all educational system we have now.
I myself have been a proponent of using some aspects of the charter school process to effect true school reform. I know they can work.
I also understand that if the charter school process is not developed, monitored and regulated properly it could wreak havoc on an already under-performing and outmoded public school system.
Unfortunately the charter school process in Pennsylvania, which in essence deregulated controls on education, was instituted in a hurried, haphazard, unregulated manner under the Ridge administration similar to the way the federal government deregulated banks and other financial institutions. While the act of deregulating and privatizing certain institutions may sound like a great idea at the time, the powers that be did not take into consideration the fact that there are unscrupulous and greedy business people who would take this as an opportunity to raid the bank or the charters for all they could get.
The testimony given so far during the hearings on whether to renew New Hope's charter is reminiscent of the testimony during the Enron, WorldCom, AIG, and other financial institution investigations.
Staff members being paid inflated sums of money far above what they are qualified to command; the CEO of the organization refusing to disclose how much money he makes; multiple organizations set up so as to obfuscate who or what is responsible for anything; unable or unwilling to disclose how much profit is siphoned off from taxpayer funds; and shuffling funds and students from one entity to another under the guise of legitimate business transactions. These are just a few of the troubling facts coming out of the recent hearing testimony.
One of the more incredible facts disclosed during testimony is an agreement between New Hope and 3Cord that will pay Isiah Anderson's company $300 dollars per student -- there are now 700 students -- if New Hope is shut down for any reason.
Above all else is the fact that even though New Hope came into this community with a promise of outperforming the local public schools academically, it has failed to do so during the five years it has been in existence. In fact, after four years of failing to provide a quality curriculum to its students, New Hope finally hires Michael Clemens, a former superintendent from South Western School District, to begin doing this. Upon his arrival, Mr. Clemens testified that "It was pretty clear ... they needed to gain an academic focus."
We, the taxpayers of this community, deserve better.
We are under siege from ever-increasing taxes, trying to keep the city district afloat, while this charter system racks up so-called "profits" that are split 50-50 with the managing company at the end of the year. Something is wrong with this picture. The city district is barely able to make payroll, while this organization would have us believe they are so efficient they can glean profits for their partners. On top of that they refuse to, or will not, disclose how much those profits are. This is similar to those Wall Street financial firms asking for taxpayer bailouts while at the same time giving out huge bonuses to their employees.
This city school district cannot afford this.
I don't mean to suggest, nor should it be assumed, that the city district is without serious structural problems of its own. The stakeholders in this organization need to come together to address those issues. Teachers, administrators and, above all, students and parents all have a role to play in creating a first-class educational organization.
It would be much more economically and academically feasible for the district to develop partnerships with charters or develop charters themselves to address issues that are difficult to resolve in the current system. Instead of setting up charters trying to replicate what is already offered, we need to set up schools to deal with the issue of African-American and Latino male issues, which represent one of the biggest challenges to school reform.
There is a current proposal being considered to address this issue, although I feel it needs to be developed and thought out a little more before it is instituted.
What we, the taxpayers of this community, and our students don't need and can't afford is five more years of unfulfilled promises at the expense of our students' educational future.
-- Jeffrey Kirkland is the former president of the York City school board.