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investments subsidized by tax breaks. Lafer add that charters routinely fall short of their educational mandate. In California, 161 charters scored in the bottom 10th percentile of similar schools but continue to collect $44 million in lease payments, $57 million in general obligation bonds, $40 million in taxcredit investments and $85 million in conduit bond financing. Preston Green III, a professor of educational leadership and law at the University of Connecticut, likens the charter industry to Enron and the subprime mortgage market. “At first, I thought charters gave us an opportunity for innovation to level the playing field for students of color,” says Green, who has been studying and writing about charter schools for two decades. “But over time, I became very concerned that people were exploiting privatization to benefit themselves.” The problem lies in the way states, including California, structure charter schools, which involves a byzantine network of private entities funded by public dollars. At best, charter school operators volunteer their financials and invite the public to board meetings. At their worst, the people running them get busted for embezzlement, fraud and self-dealing. Magnolia Schools—a charter management organization that runs 11 campuses, including one in San Jose—made headlines in recent years for its dubious hiring practices. According to audits, the charter chain recruited teachers from Turkey and required them to shell out 40 percent of their salary to the national organization or risk losing their visas. In January, another charter network, called Celerity Educational Group, came under federal investigation after reports surfaced of the CEO using the enterprise as a personal piggy bank. “People are right to be skeptical,” Green says. Vera Sloan, a parent in San Jose with two young daughters, says she supports high-performing charters but hopes the district’s elected officials will exercise restraint and approve only charter petitions that add value. “Charters have the flexibility to innovate in a way that most public schools cannot,” says Sloan, a community organizer and co-founder of local activist group Stand San Jose. “But we have to set a high standard.” McMahon agrees. If the SJUSD board approves a poorly managed charter school, taxpayers, parents and children are on the hook. Perseverance Prep comes up for a vote Thursday, while Promise’s petition is slated for June.
MAY 17-23 2017 | metrosiliconvalley.com | sanjose.com | metroactive.com
Schools, picked up his cellphone and fired off a series of terse text messages to district trustee Susan Ellenberg about a motion to put off the Promise Academy hearing to June. “You leave people no option but to speak out when you don’t allow people to speak on this agenda item before you pull it,” Hammer wrote, according to records obtained by Metro through a public records request. “That makes people feel silenced. Why the delay?” Ellenberg texted back from the dais: “Because we don’t have 50% interest— we evidently aren’t allowed to accept that without that number of signs.” “SJUSD has always granted a hearing without verifying sigs, like every district in the state,” Hammer replied. “McMahon is making up new interpretation. … And you aren’t letting ppl speak at mic. That seems to be significant violation of [Brown] act.” Ellenberg wrote : “This is very distracting and inappropriate. Everyone gets to speak during public comment.” McMahon, the district’s deputy superintendent, defended the verification checks, adding that the process honors the intent of the Charter Schools Act of 1992. Although other districts may go about it in other ways, he says, the state Education Code supports the district’s requirement. “Opening a school is difficult,” McMahon says. “We are holding petitioners accountable to the process of the law. It’s not that the process is difficult, it’s what is necessary to open a school the right way.” Policymakers who backed the Charter Schools Act decades ago envisioned the new model complementing public schools by offering classroom alternatives. Charters receive public funds yet run like private businesses. Similar to nonprofits, they have nonelected governing boards and the freedom to experiment with curriculum. But critics say lax regulations and profit motive have fueled an industry that strays from the original vision. The systemic tendency to give charter petitioners the benefit of the doubt has led to schools being opened in neighborhoods with no need for more classrooms, says University of Oregon researcher Gordon Lafer.. He found that 450 charters have opened in California school districts that already had enough space, an overproduction that cost taxpayers $111 million in rent, lease and mortgage payments, $135 million in bond debt and $425 million in private
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