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Educator Speaks Out About Charter Schools

Dear Mr. Britt,

Your article was very interesting since I have not gotten to see Dr. Mabry in action. My only contact with him has been at AEA Board Meetings since I am a director on the board.

I am a teacher of 25+ years, having taught in Mississippi and Alabama. I have a double major in Special Ed, and Ele., a Masters Degree, National Board Certification, and was teacher of the year for my system and one of the eight finalists for Ele. Teacher of the Year in 2010. I have served as an officer both President and Vice President of Athens City Educators for eight years. I have served on the Board of Directors for the Alabama Association of Classroom Teachers.

I am a third generation school teacher in my family. My grandfather taught in Kentucky and my father in Mississippi. Teaching is both in my blood and in my genes and has been my passion all my life.

I said all of that so that I what I have to say will have some credibility. I would add that I have no political affiliation. I am an Independent.

First of all on the issue with Charter Schools. Research shows (and I have done quite a bit) that charter schools do no better on the whole than public schools. But one thing they really do is drain public schools of finances. In Alabama we have never adequately funded our schools and for the past five years we have cut funding to the point that schools are suffering from the effects. This is not a good time to experiment with something that will cause further cuts.

The “for profit” companies that manage charter schools are riddled with scandals. All across the country the states with charters are experiencing this since there is such poor oversight and little to no accountability to the public.

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They do not have to provide transportation and many times charge even the poorest students for meals. This causes many of the poorest to have to opt out of charter schools because they cannot get their children there and cannot afford to provide money for meals and sometimes uniforms and other expenses associated with the “for profits” who are trying to make a profit. It is strange to me that a private school here in Athens buys meals from our public school’s lunchroom because it is the most cost effective way to provide their students meals. So I wonder how much meals at a charter who is outsourcing will actually cost.

There are problems with special needs students and charters. There are lawsuits all over the country dealing with issues concerning special needs students in charter schools. These students frequently lower test scores but in the end cost schools more money because of unfunded mandates. The charters don’t really want to deal with the issues surrounding special needs students who take so much time, energy, and money. It is a very complicated issue sincebpublic schools have such an array of special education students including those with autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and mental illnesses of all kinds.

I do believe we have schools that are failing students and most of these are the most disadvantaged students and we need something different for them. Dr. Bice, our state superintendent, is working along with AEA on an alternative for these schools. Dr. Bice as Assistant Superintendent of Ed. for Alabama was responsible for turning around many schools in these areas. He was appointed in October and Dr. Bentley did not even meet with him before hiring Emily Schultz as an education advisor. Compare their resumes and see if this makes any sense. Dr. Bice’s resume reads like the perfect resume for a State Superintendent. He has worked in all areas of education, at every level and has been a success each time. He is hands on, no ivory towers here, an real. He is respected by everyone with whom he has worked and our Governor did not have the courtesy to meet with him about what vision and plans he had for the schools in Alabama.

And who is Emily Schultz? She is a twenty eight year old who was a TFA teacher for two years under Michelle Rhee. Michelle Rhee who is surrounded by scandal at this time. Ms Schultz is being paid $70,000 a year to be an education advisor! We have schools that cannot buy textbooks and we are paying this lady with two years of experience $70,000 to advise the governor. This is incredulous!

As to AEA being a labor union. Go to states that do collective bargaining and you will see some Real labor unions. We lobby like the Medical Profession, Realtors, and other associations. And we are NOT the most powerful political organization in the state. I have had more than one Republican legislator tell me we are not. ALFA and the Timber industry puts us in the shade by light years. They have managed to keep the taxes associated with corporate owned land so low that they are the lowest land taxes in the US. Go visit the schools in those areas. See for yourself what poor local support looks like. The rest of the state has to send money to the Foundation Program to keep them propped up. If those muti-national corporations paid even a fair share of taxes these schools could be funded to a point that they could afford for their students to have at least a semblance of what other schools have in AL. Even high school students who attend Boys and Girls

State know that our 1901 Constitution and these corporations have held Montgomery in a choke hold for over a century. No legislator, democrat or republican, dare cross this group. They fear them like the plague. But they hold the key to many of our financial problems including education.

Also the schools with the poorest of the poor, mainly inner city schools, will in all likelihood have to have wrap -around programs to insure the students succeed. Wrap -arounds are programs that help students in the morning before school starts and also after school. They help in all areas of students lives (like the Harlem Project). They are expensive and I don’t think the powers that be will spend that kind of money but that kind of energy and money is what it take to close the gap for the majority of these students.

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As to bus drivers getting a pension. Support personnel has such a little bit of pension that it takes every penny of it to pay for their health care premiums each month. Many legislators want all services outsourced. If didn’t work in education I might have the same belief. We didn’t start busing in Athens until a few years ago. Sometimes we had to rely on the private sector for transportation on field trips and for the band, trips to ballgames. We had many nightmare experiences with this. Drivers leaving us stranded for almost an hour in 30 degree weather, or not showing up at the end of a game and finally returning drunk. Waiting for a replacement driver when one didn’t show up. In all situations dealing with those who work with children, people should be checked out thoroughly and held to the highest of standards. Bus drivers have a huge job and my experience has shown they need to be part of the school family and held accountable to that school family. And if we pay them a pittance of a pension for this it is a small thing in the great scheme of things. Go ride on a school bus for a week and see if it changes your mind.

In conclusion, Dr. Mabry is working on failing schools as he works to see that they will not kill the teaching profession in general. AEA is powerful, but is not the Most powerful lobbying group in AL, and charter schools are not a magic bullet and should be considered with caution as states like Florida struggle with the mess they have made in their state.

Decades ago- An education study of Alabama by the Dept. of  Interior, Bureau of Ed.  (before we had a Dept. of Ed.) stated in a report distributed by P.P. Claxton “The principal fault of the AL education system has been the century -old disposition of the people, particularly the molder of policies, to look too much upon edcation as something to be bought in the market by the well-to-do or to be provided by the State at an irksome personal sacrifice of the individual taxpayer. If now the people will see a public responsibility in the provision of schools and will wisely put ample public money in them as an investment paying large dividends, the State may soon take educational rank suited to its great material advantages.”

Not much has changed, has it?

Respectfully yours,

Donna McDaniel
First Grade Teacher- Athens City Schools

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