Tuesday, March 01, 2005

When Is Enough Enough?

As I heard on the morning news program, Jenks America is holding a school bond election today. As usual, you don't hear any real details about how the funds are to be used. There has been some rhetoric that if it (the bond election) fails, teachers will be laid off, but honestly, since when have we funded teachers pay from bond revenues? If, I am wrong, please, somebody enlighten me! Anyway, this situation reminded me of something else I would like to get out into the public forum.....

In Oklahoma, our state constitution requires/guarantees a free and appropriate public education. As the laws now stand, we have traditional public schools and charter schools. However, as the charter school law clearly states, charter schools are public schools. They are publicly funded, but operated independently from the local school district. Or, as I would like to think, they in essence create a new school mini-district.

But the charter schools funding is only a part of what the traditional public school receive. That revenue stream is the state appropriated amount of funding. It does not include most of the county and local funds available to the traditional schools, principally through property taxes. Yet in large part, the ever increasing property taxes that the citizens of Tulsa pay go to fund the "bricks and mortar" buildings it is assumed necessary to have for a public school system. And need I remind you, TPS is the district which has over 58% of its schools on the needs improvement list (and growing each year).

My deduction is therefore, that Tulsans are paying increasingly more property taxes to fund a system (district) that is on a downward spiral. But it does not have to be so. You see, charter schools (a type of public school) are able to fund their entire annual budget based upon the state appropriated funding. That includes all the teachers salaries, building expenses, admin fees, etc. How are they able to do that?

Well, they don't have an education service center filled with administrators and public servants managing all kinds of social services and programs. More of the charter school budget goes directly into the classroom, where most parents agree the money should be spent. Charter schools tend to rent available space or share space with other organizations. Therefore, they are helping pump up the local economy and improving the occupancy rate of local available rental space. With the same partial funding the charter schools create opportunities for educators, entrepreneurs, cooks, janitors, secretaries, parents, students, you name it.

There's no doubt about it, charter schools use the public funding more efficiently that the traditional schools. They have to. And they tend to be better public schools. They have to be. Because if they don't measure up to their own goals, or the goal of parents and students, they will be shut down. I repeat, they will shut down.

I assure you that has never happened so far with TPS. Case in point is McClain/TSST.

TPS in typical government style reacts to each crisis with a reorganization that results in hiring more administrative staff, or remodels building or changes the name and pours millions of taxpayer dollars into the effort. All this to support a system that is unable and unwilling to heal itself of the terminal disease it suffers.

Think about the differences the next time you look at your property tax statement. Those taxes could be a lot less if we had more charter schools in the public education mix.

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