POSTED: January 28th, 2012
This past week, I was at a conference for Public School Superintendents. During a lunch for retirees I couldn’t help noticing something curious; everyone – well, almost everyone was sitting by other superintendents either from adjoining districts or districts from the same county. Within the county, my colleagues are very cooperative. They really don’t do anything to hurt another district – even if it means their students get less. We really don’t compete for resources, too much. It’s not considered good etiquette. But, because I’m a little different and want my students to get more, I tend to go my own way. Seeing them all together got me thinking…. “Is it bad to compete with my neighbors?”
Twenty years ago, the answer was easy. We cooperated. The reason for this was that we each had our own pond and we didn’t really have to share. We had what we had and we were happy with that. We didn’t have to worry about people poaching our students. However, today with the advent of charter schools and depleting resources, we are fighting for every last dollar. Our competition today is much greater than a few students – or their parents – driving to another district or choosing paying a steep tuition to attend a private school. We now have charter schools that operate without boundaries and can get students from any district without getting the approval of the resident district. And, since these charters need approval from another district in our county, a portion of the generated revenue goes to the authorizing district.
Yesterday, for the first time, it really hit me that our days of comfortably working together to maintain our little patch are over. As I sat at the table eating my soup, it finally dawned on me that we are now in a new era. From now on, we are going to have to compete – and, compete hard for resources. Gone are the days of idol chit-chat and polite conversation. From now on, we are going to have to get better or die.
Looking at a group of superintendents from another region in my county, I realized that even though my district was fifty miles away, our charter schools had taken over 700 students from their districts. Those students accounted for more that $4 million in revenue from their districts that were shifted to the district I serve. None of those students have ever stepped foot in my district, yet I’m getting revenue from them. How?
As an authorizer of charter schools, we technically can locate them wherever we want within our county. Therefore, we locate them in areas where people are not happy with their present district. We bring them to our independent study charter school or our virtual school and make a percentage of the revenue for oversight and other services we provide the school. To our District, this accounts for around 3% of our total revenue. With that money we are able to provide more for the students in our district and has kept us from shortening the school year or laying off teachers.
The sad thing about that is, these districts could offer the same programs to their students, yet they choose not too out of fear of upsetting the apple cart.
Well, I can’t say the other superintendents are happy with me. But, I know how they feel. I have a charter from another district that lives in my district. When I first started at my present district, I asked the superintendent of the authorizing district to move it, he told me, “Get better and choke us out.” So for the past four years I have made it my mission to provide our community with the type of schools they dreamed of so they wouldn’t go to the charter. In that time we have cut their enrollment in half and look forward to them shuttering their doors next year. We competed. We didn’t whine about the local charter, we got better.
Even though we hate to admit it, that charter makes us better. It makes us look at ourselves and not just try to be good enough to stay out of trouble with the state. It helps to raise the bar and makes us responsive to the community. It forces us to recognize that we can’t take our students and the community for granted and deliver the best of ourselves each day.
Does it work? Yes. Last year we had the highest increase in test scores in our county. We are one of the few districts that still have 180 school days and we have had no layoffs of staff or teachers. We’ve added athletic and arts programs and enjoy great community support.
So, while camaraderie is nice, I just want give the students in my district the best education possible. If that means that I don’t have other superintendents as friends, I’m Ok. I have lots of friends already.
In fact, some of them have figured it out and started a new group called EdHive. Check them out.
Comments are closed.