There was a public hearing at Montgomery’s Lanier High school April  5 to discuss the plans of the Montgomery Education Foundation to turn five local schools into charter schools.

After a presentation by the education foundation about what the plan encompasses and breakout sessions where people could get questions answered, the session was opened for public comments.  Of the 15-20 people who spoke, NOT A SINGLE SOUL spoke in favor of the idea of converting Lanier high school, Bellingrath middle and Nixon, Floyd and Davis elementary to charters.

And if more who were there were like me, they left with far more questions than answers.

For instance, why were the principals of the elementary schools involved not consulted prior to this meeting?  That seems just common courtesy.  But I went by two schools the afternoon of the meeting and principals told me they had no clue what was going on.

Yet, under this plan each of these schools will basically be “confiscated” and run by an education management organization.  All staff will have to reapply for their  jobs.  There are no assurances that anyone will be asked to stay.  They can be replaced by non-certified teachers.

So here is a principal like Dana Williams at Nixon who has put 60+ hours a week into this school for the past three years and no one tells her what is going on.  That is just plain wrong.  I nave never met a  principal who doesn’t think every child in their school is their baby.  Working with children is not their job, it is their calling.  They deserve more respect.

We were told that the school year would go from 178 to 190 days.  That teachers would get an extra ten days of professional development and that each staff would see an influx of special ed and other support staff.

And it would all be done on the same amount of money now spent per pupil that all MPS schools get.  You have to suspend common sense to buy into that notion.

One thing we were not told is that research shows that there is much more turnover in teachers in charters as compared to public schools.  Look at this info from Texas.  

The article states, “Teachers quit Texas charter schools at nearly three times the rate of traditional public school districts, according to state data. Dozens of individual schools lost well over half their teachers in the latest year.”  It goes on to report a study from the Texas Center for Education Research showing turnover rate for charters at 43 percent, compared to 16 percent at traditional public schools.

At one charter chain of seven schools, the average teacher was 25 years old and average pay statewide for charter teachers was 79 percent that of public school teachers.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about education knows that constant teacher turnover is not good for a school or its students.

I recently wrote that distrust is damaging Montgomery public schools.  Unfortunately the meeting at Lanier was just another example of what I wrote about.

Rather than having a public meeting to tell folks what some group had already decided to do with their schools, why not a meeting to ask the public what they want from their schools and how can we be a part of making that happen?

Charter schools are a lightening rod.  They have been researched endlessly.  For every report someone can dredge up that they are good, I can find one that says they are not.  It makes no sense to roll a grenade into the middle of a situation that is already a mess.  We need consensus, not more chaos.

there are plenty of ways for the education foundation to help this school system.  Go to Huntsville and look at the health clinics and dental clinic located on the grounds of high-poverty schools.  Montgomery needs the same things.  Go to Cincinnati and look at the 50 community-centered schools where they are striving to meet the needs of the whole child and having success.  Go to Jefferson County, AL where their education foundation is supporting teacher mentoring programs and career tech academies.

Go to Fort Worth and visit with my friend, Baptist minister Charlie Johnson and learn about Texas Pastors for Children that now has a coalition of 1,000 churches partnering with local schools.  Charlie grew up in Monroe County, AL and  would love to come work with ministers in Montgomery.

Montgomery schools need all hands on deck, especially right now.  The Montgomery Education Foundation can be a very positive force and should be.  They should be part of the solution–not part of the problem.