Common sense. Something we hear about all the time, but sometimes appears to be beyond the reach of some folks to actually put in practice.
One definition says: Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.
Then you look at the entirety of the whole sordid affair of the charter school commission voting to allow a charter school in Washington County and you can only conclude that common sense was nowhere to be found last May 14 when this body voted 7-2 to approve the application.
Even worse, they thumbed their noses at the evaluation of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a group that reviewed nine Alabama applications in 2016 and 2017 and were paid $113,000 by Alabama taxpayers to do so, that unequivocally told them not to do so.
“Sound and prudent judgment”? Are you joking?
“Based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” Hardly.
Instead this body chose to simply be a shill for a small group of disgruntled folks, Damn the facts. Damn the outpouring of opposition from this small, rural county. Damn the evaluation from a national organization.
There are 722,000 students in Alabama public schools. Schools that educate 90 percent of all the school age children in this state. It is the moral responsibility of EVERY ONE serving on a local school board, the state school board, a state wide commission or whatever we may label someone or something dealing with public education, to do everything within their power to help each and every one of these students.
That does not mean parking common sense at the door and giving approval to a charter school that will be an impediment to the ability of the Washington County school system to serve their 2,650 students.
How so? By being a financial drain on a small system, that, like most rural systems, is challenged each year to come up with enough money to do what it must do. What it is mandated to do in many cases.
Suddenly you have school buses running the same routes with fewer children. And fewer dollars to keep buses operating. Routes that are already underfunded by state dollars. You have electric bills for school building with fewer students. And fewer dollars to pay for lights and air-conditioning. Do you call Alabama Power and ask them to drop your rate per kilowatt hour?
What about nurses, technology coordinators, electronic devices? All of which must be supplemented by local dollars because the state does not fully fund them.
And if you are the charter commission with little common sense you ignore that part of the charter law that say you should: “take into consideration the quality of school options existing in the affected community.” Washington County got a B on the state’s latest A-F report card. The same score as Shelby and Baldwin counties, two of the top systems in Alabama. So this is not a failing system, nor a C system or a D system.
A close look at school and community demographics is an excellent barometer of what a community thinks about its schools. In Washington County, 65 percent of the population is white, 25 percent is African-American. The school system is practically the same, 63 percent white, 25 percent African-American. This is very unique.
In Montgomery County, for example, where I live and where I was on the school board, the community is 40 percent white and 55 percent African-American. However, the school system is 9 percent white and 78 percent African American. We have 40 private schools. Washington County has none. (There was once one at McIntosh, but it closed.)
Numbers such as these give tremendous insight into a community and how people view its education system. But digging them out takes a wee bit of due diligence And understanding what they mean takes some common sense. One wonders if the charter commission cares for either.
The law also says the commission should “require significant and objective evidence of interest for the public charter school from the community the public charter school wishes to serve.” However, such support is almost non-extent. In fact, The Washington County Education Association sent nearly 1,000 postcards voicing opposition to the members of the charter commission board.
Their reward? When opponents showed up in Montgomery for the May 14 commission meeting, one of the board members dressed them down for sending the cards.
And a charter commission staffer told people in Washington County they were unaware of any opposition to the new charter school.
To me, common sense also means understanding the difference between right and wrong. What is being forced down the neck of Washington County is wrong.
Five of the appointments to the state charter commission board expire May 31, 2019. Isn’t it high time we find some folks with real common sense and put them on this board?