March 7, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 46

Schools fare better when left up to local direction

In our opinion

Are our schools better off in the hands of local residents, or a non-profit group directed by the state?

Senate Bill 5329, currently under consideration, is among the education-related proposals in the Legislature. State senators of both parties from the west side are sponsoring the bill, which passed through committees with a 12-3 vote.

The bill creates a state superintendent district as an established office within the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Low-performing schools from the bottom 10 percent of the state would be transferred to the district in an attempt to raise their performance standards. The state district can transfer up to 20 schools each year for a three-year term that could be renewed once. If a school hadn’t improved over those six years, it would be permanently shut down.

In order to manage and operate the school, OSPI would contract with a Learning Management Organization. That organization, as stated in the bill proposal, must be a nonprofit corporation that has expertise in managing daily operations of the school.

Employees at the school to be transferred will not have their contracts renewed, but can request a transfer to the now-state school or to another facility in the original school district. Students must also be allowed the opportunity to transfer to another school in the original district.

While the state would assume operations at the school, the original district would still be responsible for ownership, major repairs and upgrades. The state would handle routine maintenance of the facility.

Our question is: how can the state do any better than the local school district?

Many people are responsible for school district decisions on the local level, it’s not just the superintendent. What does OSPI hope to accomplish by adding another layer of bureaucracy to the system? This legislation would take control out of local residents, who should be the driving force for their schools.

Should this bill progress further, and actually be enacted as law, we hope schools are given a thorough evaluation process. Factoring in district income levels, numbers of special education students, backgrounds and other elements should be included before determining a district’s performance.

In addition to the concerns already addressed, the creation of the Learning Management Organization should raise some eyebrows. It places a non-profit group in the leadership role at a school. But, keep in mind that “non-profit” doesn’t mean it’s a free service. Rather, it would likely include hiring a consultant who charges a six-figure fee.

Our solution is to have better evaluation methods for not only teachers, but also principals and superintendents. While the new Teacher/Principal Evaluation Program, in which all schools must participate in a few years, creates more in-depth classroom assessments it doesn’t look at higher levels.

There are better options to improve our schools through local involvement. Creating more bureaucracy and layers of state government will only cost us more in the end.

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