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Tim Myers: The new SUSD bogeyman — charter schools

Myers’ Musings

Posted: December 26, 2009 7:09 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
At Drake University my most excellent freshman English Composition professor liked to relate stories about her childhood years growing up on the Oregon coast during World War II.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, American citizens, particularly those on the West Coast, got very scared of an impending Japanese invasion.  Her own personal fear centered around an imagined Japanese soldier hiding under her bed, intending to cut off her feet at bedtime with his samurai sword.

To frustrate the evil soldier, she took to taking a running start and jumping for the bed at a distance she judged too far for the long sword.

My professor’s fear, though exaggerated, was not completely irrational. The nation did stand locked in conflict with Japan, and the United States’ Navy and Marines needed to repel their forces and eventually force Japanese unconditional surrender with brutal force.

However, it did not occur to the young professor-to-be that a Japanese soldier penetrating her home would certainly not settle for her feet and would probably not hide under the bed.

We recently found a bogeyman discussed in the Santa Clarita Valley when the Saugus Union School District realized it may possess three to five extra elementary schools and can ill afford to maintain them under budget cuts.

Administrators unable to admit they overshot the mark on school population brought up the bogeyman of charter schools impairing the traditional schools’ attendance to the detriment of Saugus district capacity management.

Many misunderstand the scope and definition of a charter school. A charter school receives its “charter,” or operating authority, from a public school district and attracts state funding on a per-capita basis like a regular public school.

Many people possess very strident beliefs on the issue of charter schools. On one extreme, people believe God invented charter schools to break the teachers’ unions because they support center-left political candidates.

On the other hand, some people believe God invented charter schools to destroy the public school system because all it seeks to accomplish is homosexual indoctrination.

Naturally, once one puts away the tinfoil hat, one realizes the arguments must gather around a more centrist view. But make no mistake, a charter school does compete directly for students, and thereby state funding, if it operates within the same attendance area.

Now, several charter high schools operate under the authority of the William S. Hart Union High School District.

In my humble opinion, they do God’s work because they primarily cater to “alternative learning” situations. In other words, for a variety of reasons, their students could not function well within a comprehensive high school, and if they were not attending the charter school they would probably not attend school at all.

Therefore, the Hart district feels, rightly, that it loses no marginal state funding by allowing the charters to operate.

But when it comes to elementary schools, the Saugus district must fear a charter school (singular).

Currently, only one elementary charter school exists in the Santa Clarita Valley: Santa Clarita Valley International (“SCVi”), operating out of a mixed used retail/office center in the Valencia Commerce Center on Hasley Canyon Road in Castaic. SCVi also received its charter from the Hart district.

How much competition does SCVi provide to the Saugus district and the other three elementary school districts in the SCV? According to the latest state Department of Education reports, SCVi enrolled 133 students. More current estimates place the count at around 200.

Compare that to the just-under-26,000 K-6 students enrolled in the four public elementary school districts, and this amounts to less than 1 percent of the total student body — hardly an explanation for possessing three to five “extra” elementary schools.

But does the Saugus district fear the charter school under the bed? Lennar Corp. built a shiny new elementary school in the West Creek development of Valencia that message boards trumpet the district will “lose” if it does not occupy in a timely fashion.

Unfortunately, many parents equate the beauty of a school’s physical plant with the quality of education, so many would hesitate to send their children to a storefront. But what about a nice shiny elementary school that looks exactly like the schools they attended?

If the charter packed the shiny new school with 1,200 students, now one can see the possibility of the Japanese soldier under the bed.

The signals from the Saugus district seem clear. The district will hold onto West Creek even if it means the closure of a longtime neighborhood school, probably Bouquet Canyon.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.

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