Incrementalism in public education

There's more below the surface

There is an interesting controversy at the St. Vrain Valley School District concerning the approval of two new charter schools. According to the district’s accountability and accreditation committee Lotus School of Excellence and Skyview Charter School fail to meet the minimum standards for approval.

As a former teacher, parent and grandparent, I recognize the importance of a superior education. The institution of free public education to all children in the United States is something that we should treasure – forever.

A public education serves many purposes. It provides the foundation necessary to succeed in a complex society. I am reminded of the saying that “we learn to read in order that we might read to learn.” It prepares us for citizenship, not just as Americans but as citizens of a larger world.

As a society we have concluded that an educated population is of benefit to all of us and accordingly we have agreed to tax ourselves to achieve this. Regardless of age or family status education benefits us individually and collectively.

Raising and educating children has always been and will always be a challenge. We are all of us individuals with differing levels of intellect and talent. We learn through different methods and we have individual interests.

As Americans we have had many choices to educate our children. We can send them to public schools, private schools or religious schools. If we choose the latter two, any costs associated with those choices are our individual responsibility.

In recent decades public charter schools have gained cachet. Declining student performance has caused us to examine reasons and solutions. That is as it should be. However, there is an absence of purity of purpose in our efforts. Superior performance should be the only goal, but that is not and perhaps never has been the sole motivation behind this changing emphasis.

As such, the move toward public charter schools needs to be examined for motives beyond a high quality education.

One of the underlying motives for pushing charter schools is a hatred of teachers unions by some individuals and segments of our society. Our public school teachers have been demonized simply because they belong to a union. Certainly there are good and bad teachers as there are good and bad electricians, plumbers, accountants, lawyers, analysts, financial advisors, and so on. That will always be the case. However, the quality of our teachers is only one component of poor pupil performance, and very probably not the most important component. The student, the parent, peers and broader societal conditions all bear some responsibility.

Americans are resistant to change, especially sudden and drastic change. They have demonstrated that over and over again. For this reason, we need to be especially concerned about incrementalism, movement in slow and subtle steps to an outcome that would not be acceptable if it were to take place all at once.

There are those whose goal is to privatize all education. There are those who seek tax credits and/or vouchers for private, religious and homeschooling. All of this flies in the face of our agreed upon social goals and the reasonable sharing of the cost.

In the case of Lotus School of Excellence there is a further complicating issue. Lotus plans to rent space at LifeBridge Christian Church, located in unincorporated Boulder County just north of Highway 66.

The Times-Call has had two articles this week on the controversy of approving the applicants. Several readers commented on the articles. Amongst them is Matt Yapanel, president of the board of directors of Lotus.

He writes the following about the relationship between Lotus and LifeBridge.

Charter schools get around 30% less funding then regular public schools. That’s why we have to be extremely careful with our spending. Creating an efficiently run school is the goal and we make even pennies count toward improving student achievement. With less money, most charter schools are providing better opportunities for their students. I can tell you that we have achieved this in our Aurora campus which was a previous church/private school facility. When we leased space from the church, they were in financial trouble; they had another project to build and move but were not able to sell their existing facility. As a charter school, that facility was very suitable for us to serve as our permanent campus. We purchased the facility, co-existed in the building sharing the mortgage payments in which time Lotus improved its enrollment to fully support the facility when the church has moved out. Meanwhile church has built their great new home and moved there ultimately. Both entities got what they needed to the best possible extent; it was a win-win situation for both parties. Lotus took over the full facility this year and opened an elementary school to serve 610 students, 65% of which are free-reduced lunch eligible and 80% are minority students. Because of the shared use of the space, we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we put right back into the classroom. Therefore, sharing space with a church is a fiscally very responsible move. We are a public school simply sharing space with a church, that’s what most charter schools do as they establish their program and work to acquire a permanent campus. It is challenging to be able to pay for a facility when you get 30% less dollars. However it is not the quality or appearance of the facility that matters, it is the programs running in that facility that matters the most.

Although Mr. Yapanel was speaking about the Aurora situation, those who are aware of circumstances surrounding LifeBridge will see strong similarities in both situations.

LifeBridge mortgaged it’s properties at Highway 66 and those in Weld County between Union Reservoir and Highway 119 for $26 million dollars in July of 2007. They planned to build a waterfront community of homes with a substantial religious campus as well as commercial enterprises. Their intent was to annex the Weld County properties to Longmont. There is also a history of attempts to annex to Longmont the church’s existing facilities and properties. None of those efforts came to fruition because of resistance within the Longmont community for many reasons and from many interests.

In December of 2009 LifeBridge refinanced its debt to the Church Development Fund (CDF) and turned approximately half of its Weld County properties over to CDF as deeds in lieu of foreclosure. The LifeBridge project was derailed by the economic conditions that have resulted in massive declines in both residential and commercial development, amongst other changing financial circumstances.

With LifeBridge in need of money and Lotus in need of a location, the two entities have joined forces. One of the concerns that the St. Vrain Valley School District with which it is wrestling is indirectly supporting the financial needs of LifeBridge Church through taxpayer dollars that would go to support Lotus. This is a slippery slope towards violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

If Lotus can overcome its low score in the accreditation assessment, it would do well to find a location other than a church to house its school. In today’s economic situation, I’m confident that there are options for its location that would not place the SVVSD in the precarious position of de facto supporting a church.

All of us with a concern for the education of our children, need to take a step back and ask further: Are charter schools really the answer to our needs or are they a step towards privatization? If our schools are substantially privatized, what happens to the education of those who cannot afford private tuition? If tax dollars are used to support school privatization as they are in so many other instances, who then decides what is taught and how it is taught?

There is a place for public, private and religious schools. But only public education deserves taxpayer support. We can fix what’s wrong without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  11 comments for “Incrementalism in public education

  1. Duane Leise
    November 14, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I’m sure there are many landlords who would be very happy in this economy to have a charter school sign up at the same rate as what Lifebridge is charging. Something like 25% or more of our commercial office/research space is empty in Longmont. It would be interesting to get the actual vacancy numbers. My question generated from reading this article is, “Is this a strategy to fund churches with state funds?” If it isn’t, it sure looks like it.

  2. ohohmrbill
    November 14, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    You may wish to pass this along to your friends family members and to the American teachers of your school. Take the time to do some google search for “Gulen Charter Schools “. Not everything is as it seems. Your school has now become a religious and political target. ALso this movement is intentionally invading distressed churches and christain schools to be conmverted. Lotus school is one of five in the last two years by the Gulen Movement.
    Google these terms:

    PKK Targets Gulen Schools
    Gulen Charter schools
    Foriegnor fill ranks of charter school
    Hidden agenda Tucson weekly.
    Weebly Gulen

    Besure to copy the links and send them around to every one you know incliuding school boards and local media with your findings. More and more information is collected everyday. Stay on it and stay on them. Get away asap!!

  3. Gene Moore
    November 15, 2010 at 2:06 am

    Yes, the strategy is to fund churches and other “religious” based worldwide movements.

  4. ohohmrbill
    November 15, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Also please ask yourself these questions when it come to the personal loans that are given to the Lotus School by an employee, as to where and how that much money can be loaned by a private individual? Do you smell charter school fruad?

  5. Vicky Klein
    November 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Hats off to Kaye Fissinger to a thought provoking article. Special interest groups that are managing charter schools in America should take note that taxpayers are watching and we are holding you accountable.
    In the past you have slid by and grown rapidly, now the accountability is catching up with you.
    The photo in the top left corner of the lotus in a pond with the caption “There’s more below the surface” was very telling.
    Reviewing these sites above and researching on my own, I would say there is “much more below the surface of these charter school and particularly this Lotus School for Excellence”
    Maybe they should play in another states backyard and leave us Colorado people alone. Better yet go back to the states where you started this expansionism. Even better yet, I hear the schools back home in their native land are in need of an overhaul.

  6. Kaye Fissinger
    November 17, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    “The goal is for LSE to purchase the building [LifeBridge Church] within 3 years.” — So says one of the parents promoting the acceptance by SVVSD of the Lotus School.

  7. ohohmrbill
    November 19, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Well if the neighborhood was worried about of a christain village they have a whole new set of problems.

    “New mainstream sources confirm the connection between members of the Gulen Movement and a large network of U.S. charter schools (122+). The association is undeniable. At long last, the American public is gaining knowledge about the Gulen Movement’s activities in the U.S. and an honest public conversation about this unusual situation can commence.”

    The first link above notes a speech by Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh, professor at the University of Houston, Department of Sociology, on the financing of the Gulen Movement’s institutions at “Mapping the Gulen Movement,” a conference sponsored by Dialoog Academie, a Gulenist organization in Amsterdam.

    She says:

    @ 06:58 – Now also, I interviewed the top CEO’s of some of the Gulen-related institutions. I interviewed Mr. Kabaca at the bank of Bank Asya. I interviewed Mr. Dumanli at Zaman. I interviewed officials at Samanyolu TV, at Kimse Yok Mu , at schools, at Fatih University, at a lot of the media institutions in Turkey. And I wanted to know the history of the establishment of these institutions. Who put up the initial money? Where did it come from? Where did the capital come from? And then how was it sustained?

    And I began to notice some patterns, some very strong patterns…

    @ 08:02 – The businessmen and other people in the movement – but a lot of the real capital comes from these entrepreneurs – would put up the initial money to buy the land, to build the buildings, and operating capital for the first usually two or three years. And then gradually these institutions, and fast in my estimation, became self-supporting. The schools for example, charge tuition. They’re private schools and so they charge somewhere between seven and nine thousand a year…

    At about 11:50 she says, “Do you know in Texas we now have 25 Gulen schools? They’re called charter schools…totally financed by the state, and it’s causing problems…”

    And gets told to stop talking about that.

  8. Vicky Klein
    November 20, 2010 at 2:40 am

    We support this Lotus School for Excellence then we support a housing/development and a religious establishment- I do not want this. Besides I heard this school has performed horribly and is on the other paper making all kinds of excuses.
    They claim they had turnover in staff, this resulted in some lower test scores……..sounds like this school has accountability issues.
    On another note everyone should be happy that the Denver Science and Technology School recieved $1 million from Oprah Winfrey.

  9. Carole Clark
    November 24, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Charter Schools are not required to accept all students. Children with learning disabilities are not accepted. Charter School advocates ALWAYS forget to mention this.

  10. November 24, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks Carole, I did not know that. So, once again, slogans have more than one meaning: ‘improving education’ means ‘keeping those disabled kids away from MINE’ – and at so-called ‘Christian’ schools.

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