One of the topics that has been asked of all the candidates for many years and will be important in the near future pertains to Charter Schools. They, as most things in education, have changed over time.
Charters have changed in their original objective and in the way in which they are perceived and used by the public. Originally charter schools were an innovative way to assist failing school districts, now a symbol of parental choice. Perceived as almost private schools by some in the public. Perpetuating a “legacy” education as family members are given first preference of attendance once a student has been enrolled.
For the majority of students originally in charter schools it was the only way for them to obtain a quality education. That is not the case here in Frederick County Maryland, one of the best school systems in one of the top states for education.
The majority of students in charter school environments outside of Frederick County have been minority students as the inequities of tax distribution in many states in our nation have left middle and low-income neighborhoods to fend for themselves educationally. Not so in Maryland where we have a Geographical Index and a General Assembly that uses cost of living to create a more level playing field.
Frederick County created the first public charter schools in Maryland prior to the current laws being enacted. There are for profit schools and non-profit and independently run schools. According to the National Alliance for public charter schools: 67 percent of all charter schools are independently run non-profit, single site schools; 20 percent are run by non-profit organizations that run more than one charter school; and just under 13 percent are run by for-profit companies. For-profit charter schools have to meet financial oversight regulations, just like any company the government contracts with to provide a service.
Frederick County offers school choice with parent providing transportation. Students came to my classroom in the 1980s to take my Advanced Placement Political Science class from other schools in the county. They were at Governor Thomas Johnson High School to participate in the Visual and Performing Arts program there. Today we have the International Baccalaureate program at Urbana High School and multiple other options besides the Career Tech Center, Flexible High School, and Junior ROTC. We have a long history of providing choices for students.
The local charter advocacy group sent a questionnaire to all the candidates. I have posted the questionnaire and my response below.
In order to help the voting public better understand how you will craft education policy to ensure that every child has access to an excellent education, the Frederick Classical Charter School is pleased to provide you with the following candidate questionnaire. It will serve as a guide to the voting public to make an informed decision on who will most likely support our community following this year’s Board of Education elections. Our community together with other charter schools in Frederick County make up over 1500 parents and family members that are likely to vote in both the primary election and the general election.
Once we receive your completed questionnaire we will offer the results to the citizens of your county. We appreciate your candor about the tough issues that will no doubt be very important during your tenure in office and congratulate you on your desire to serve the people of Frederick County.
We hope you will take a few minutes to review and answer the following questions and register your positions on important education issues. You may return the survey by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please return the completed questionnaire to us within 2 weeks of receipt. Feel free to copy and paste into any word processing document you choose or simply complete it in the body of this email. Our community is looking forward to the answers prior to the primary elections.
Thank you for your commitment to our future. Anne Sechler
Advocacy Chair, FCCS <><><><><><><><><><>
What drove your decision to run for a position with the Board of Education?
What are your top priorities should you become a member of the Frederick County Board of Education and how will you go about achieving them?
In order of priority, what should policymakers be most concerned about in schools?
Accountability/Strong Testing Program
School Choice (Magnet, Charter, Scholarships, etc)
Charter School Purpose
What is a charter school and how is a charter school different than a regular public school?
What is the purpose of providing parents with choices in their child’s education?
Are charter schools needed in our district? Why or why not?
Freedom of choice for families and individuals is an integral part of the American experience. Provide an example of how you have promoted parental choice for public school education.
Charter School Law
Maryland’s charter school law is currently ranked as the worst law in the nation according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools and the Center for Education Reform. What is an example of a good charter school law? What are the most important characteristics of a good charter school law?
Under current Maryland Law, the local school district (authorizer) signs a contract or a “charter” granting the operator (i.e. Frederick Classical Charter School, Inc., a non-profit) the ability to run the school with a unique philosophy of education. However, under the same law, the staff at a Maryland charter school are employees of the local school district, not the charter school itself. The vast majority of other charter states allow hiring teachers outside the local school district. As a result, Maryland charter operators do not have the authority to give implicit direction to ensure the vision of the school is achieved because the staff works for an employer other than the school itself. While Frederick County Board of Education does grant charters, it does not give operators the freedom to choose the tools to carry out that charter.
Do you believe that the operator should serve as the direct employer of the staff?
What role should the authorizer (FCBoE) serve in holding the non-profit operator accountable to its contract?
In Frederick County, charters are granted for 4 years. What do you believe is a reasonable time frame for charters to be operated before there is an accurate picture of its efficacy?
What metrics will you consider most important to evaluate efficacy?
Nationally, only a very small percentage of charter schools are unionized and the percentage of unionized charter schools continues to decline. In Maryland, 100% of charter schools are unionized because the law requires it. Do you support or oppose Maryland’s law requiring charters to be unionized? Why or why not?
Charter School Policy
It is the view of the Frederick Classical Charter School, Inc. that charter schools in Frederick County are not funded adequately. It is a fact that the regular schools’ operating budget spends $12,800 per student while the charter schools in Frederick County only receive about $8,800 per student. That is $4,000 (30%) less per student. Moreover charter schools receive $0 of the capital budget. Do you believe charter schools are fairly funded? If not, what would you do to ensure more equitable funding?
In conclusion, please explain what your role will be as part of a charter school authorizer and why that role is important to all citizens in our community and beyond.
This is my response.
April 9, 2016
Dear Ms. Sechler,
I retired from my position as Curriculum Specialist for Secondary Social Studies on February 1, 2016. As an educator in the Maryland public school system for over forty years I have worked with and supervised a great many teachers. I have taught in both Prince George’s and Frederick County Public Schools and worked there with a few thousand students. I am running for the board because it is the right thing to do at the end of my career in education. I believe I have a unique perspective and can represent a variety of constituencies.
My view of the Board of Education is that it is a body that makes decisions affecting all of the public schools. The many questions in your questionnaire are specific to one school evidently, the Frederick Classical Charter School. The Board of education makes fiscal, policy and regulatory decisions for all public schools, one of which is the Frederick Classical Charter School.
If all sixty-seven schools requested detailed explanations individually the candidates would have time for nothing else. I appreciate that in your email you let us know that 1500 parents and family members in “your community” are looking forward to the answers prior to the primary election. I believe it is inappropriate for individual schools to expect special treatment. The other candidates are free to agree or disagree but I would not answer a questionnaire from Governor Thomas Johnson High School or the Career Tech Center either. So I will offer my comments publicly to all 250,000 people in Frederick County using a variety of methods.
The entire community is involved in the primary election and they can access all of our information by going to our blogs, web sites, Facebook pages, the League of Women Voters site and the Frederick News Post. As a group we were together at a forum in Urbana which is on line at 1450 AM and many of us have individual interviews there. We will be all together again this evening, April 11, and again on Wednesday evening, April 13. There is opportunity to ask questions and listen to answers. The PTA Counsel sponsors the Wednesday evening event. They too are an advocacy group.
I believe the board is to provide policy and fiscal decision making to ensure that every child has access to an excellent education. Every child means every school also. The various charter schools are our public schools. I will follow the law and I believe it is a fair law. Each charter and each public school have measurements to which they must comply. The metrics may be different for each school but the decision-making will be based on the charter or contract or law that governs. That is one of the roles of a Board of Education.
I look forward to working with all of the schools in Frederick County as I have done for the last few decades.
Michael G. Bunitsky