[r54] The Saunders Standard: New Castle School Board is jumping the gun (5/17/2011)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Start Date: 5/17/2011 All Day
End Date: 5/17/2011
If you have been reading the headlines in the New Castle Courier Times recently, you know about the controversial decision made by the New Castle School Community Corporation (NCCSC) school board.

On Monday, they decided to sell or give away the empty school building, located on 14th Street, to the House Church of God who plans to use the building's gymnasium and cafeteria and make the rest of the building open to other interested entities.

However, Anderson Preparatory Academy, a military-style charter school, was also interested in purchasing the building in order to expand its operation to the New Castle area but was denied that opportunity.

This was an obvious problem for the school board. The reason why? School board members don't see competition among schools as a good thing even though charter schools are also public schools. 

But like me, you may be asking yourself, "Why, if this is such a good decision for our community, is the school board rushing-or jumping the gun-to transfer the school building to the House Church of God?"

My response to you would be because during this past session we passed legislation that would require all school corporations to make available any closed, unused or underutilized school buildings to charter schools for lease or purchase. However, the new law doesn't take effect until July so NCCSC feels the need to put a rush order on this issue.

You may also ask if I supported this legislation-I did. I didn't support all of the education reform legislation that came through this year; but I did, however, support giving communities and parents the ability and the option to establish a charter school if they wish to do so.

My main reason for supporting this legislation was so parents would have the option to remove their children from a failing school and send them to an alternative public school where they feel their children's specific needs will be better addressed.

Many large, metropolitan-area schools are failing. Therefore, we have parents asking the legislature for additional educational options for their children, regardless of the parents income or ZIP code. This reasoning was the motive behind the legislation that allows communities and parents to expand charter schools.

Our school system is not failing, but who is to say that in the future, charter schools might not be something parents in our community would want to consider for their children?

I say that because the New Castle area used to have a school called The Growing Tree. It was an alternative school, which today would be referred to as a charter school and it did well in our community. So having a charter school in our area is not something new for us.

I also keep hearing that "charter schools take all the 'cream of the crop' students." That is not what charter schools represent-they do not "cherry pick" students.

They take students who want a different challenge or students who are not learning in their current environment. Don't forget, the Anderson Preparatory Academy is a military-based school. Only the parents and students interested in a military style of learning will be willing to attend a school with that type of environment.  

To make matters even more questionable, as part of the agreement, the school board will include language disallowing the property to ever be used as a K-12 school that competes with New Castle's schools.    

This is nothing but the school board thumbing their nose at the state legislature. They are acting in direct opposition to what we accomplished this session.  My other concern is that I am not convinced that the church can financially support the 86-year-old building. It's an old building that requires a lot of upkeep, which costs money.

Let's be realistic; the last thing our community needs is an eyesore in Downtown New Castle, especially during a time when local officials are working to bring businesses to the area.

The NCCSC school board is simply in a rush to protect a monopoly on education. As a result, I am afraid they are not making a wise choice. They will be tying this community's hands for future plans, which isn't fair because that building was built and is paid for by taxpayer dollars.

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Rep. Tom Saunders serves House District 54. He also serves as the Assistant Caucus Chair, along with serving as a member of the Local Government, the Natural Resources and the Roads and Transportation Committees.