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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Duval County School Board to ask charter schools pretty please. This is thier stretgy.

Let me start by asking you two questions, why should you fight for the school district when the board and superintendent seem all too willing to let it die? Then how could you fight when your elected leaders rolled over and accepted something you and they both knew to be bad, what avenues could you peruse alone? I ask because after weeks of talking about the need to bring students back from charter schools and how to stem the tide of students leaving to go to them, the superintendent and the Duval County school board rolled over to a powerful charter school chain with deep pockets and political connections that they absolutely knew would be bad for the district. That’s right friends at the most recent school board meeting when the rubber hit the road the board and super proved that all it has been, is talk.

On Tuesday April 1st, ironically April fool’s day the school board approved Jacksonville’s 31st charter school, the charter school at Southside, a school I might add that had already broken ground before even being approved. I don’t know if that was confidence or chutzpah.

There is a very tangled web that this charter school weaves too. The land was purchased and built by Red Apple, the construction/leasing arm of the for-profit Charter Schools USA outfit.  It is then leased to Renaissance charters, the non-profit arm of the aforementioned Charter Schools USA and if their history holds true above fair and market value. Renaissance then turns around and hired Charter School USA to manage the school sending them an undetermined amount of management fees.  This is a scam that would make Columbian drug dealing money launderers envious.

Let’s talk about Jonathon Hage the CEO of Charter Schools USA for a moment.   He operates just 58 schools, takes home millions in compensation, I have read as much as 4.8 million, lives in a 1.8 million dollar house and sends his children to an expensive private school. By comparison our super who runs 161 schools, makes 275 thousand and sends his children to public schools. I don’t know how much Superintendent Vitti’s house is worth and where I am sure it is nice I would guess it is worth less than 1.8 million dollars.  Furthermore does anybody like to go boating? Well the CEO of charter schools USA does and routinely takes out his, 350 thousand dollar 43 foot yacht which he named Fishin-4-Schools. An ironic name if there ever was one.

This is who the county decided to get in bed with, make that stay in bed because they already operate three other charter schools in the area, and the sad thing is they didn’t have to.

Duval Charter school at Arlington received a D last year, it would have received an F but it was saved by the inane sate rule that schools can only drop one letter grade. A similar thing happened in Orange County and they denied the expansion of Charter Schools USA because of it. Now this matter is working its way through the courts but did you notice what Orange County did that Duval didn’t? They fought, they said no. Our board asked a few random questions and then unanimously voted yes.   

There are other reasons the board could have said no too. Their innovation is dubious nothing students couldn’t get at any neighborhood school, they are in direct conflict with the strategic plan which already had planned to build a school a few miles away from their location, their board isn't from Jacksonville, these aren’t locals who thought lets improve things for our children, and there is no manifest need for it, every single school near it is an A school. Read that again, every school in the vicinity is an A school.

Maybe the board was averse to paying for a lawsuit, but then why did we hire a six figured lawyer then? Is she just there for show? At the school board meeting she did answer some questions, but only after she appeared to google them.

What does the board think it is going to take because saying pretty please has not been working and neither has been getting out the facts.

Despite reports to the contrary public schools are the best thing going. The Stanford credo the definitive charter school study says children that attend Florida’s charter schools lag behind their public school peers and the states own voucher expert Dr. David Figilo says private schools that take vouchers don’t do any better. Those two types of schools also are often able to pick who they take and keep and have lower percentages of disabled and English as a second language learners.

When we compare public schools graduation rates, academic performance and school grades to charter schools we can see that public schools as a group are doing better but that hasn’t been enough because groups like charter school USA and it’s CEO routinely give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the governor and state legislators and unfortunately in today’s climate things like facts, evidence and the truth can’t compete with money.

Despite all this every single member of the Duval county school board, after weeks of talking about the need to stem the flow to charter schools, followed the superintendents recommendation and voted to let one expand and to add one more.

They ignored evidence, facts, and their own talking points as they abdicated their responsibilities. They voted for something they know to be bad for the district and instead of fighting they rolled over.   

If they aren’t going to fight then not only why should we but how can we.

I have rarely been more disappointed in my board and if you have been following them that says a lot.

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