Anyone reading this blog for the last three months is very aware of the chaos unfolding in Washington County about the location of Woodland Prep charter school there. The over-riding concern among educators in this small, southwest Alabama county is the impact on the school system’s finances.
Plans are for the charter to open with 260 students. If this happens, every student who leaves the local public system will take with them about $8,500 in state and Federal funding. This is the potential of $2.2 million leaving a system already struggling to meet their basic needs.
(There are some who maintain that such a transfer does not hurt the local system. An assistant state superintendent of education made this statement last week at a state school board work session. But this is foolishness because the school system does not shut down any schools, still has buses to run, still has custodians to pay, etc. And less money to do it with. If the enrollment in a school drops from 300 to 250, does the power company cut the electric bill in the same proportion? Not hardly.)
Washington County is not the only system in this predicament. The great majority of small systems, be they rural or urban, are in the same shape.
When you rank the 137 Alabama systems by size, Washington County is almost right in the middle. It has 2,650 students. There are 72 systems with more students and 64 with fewer.
Here is where members of the state board should be concerned. All eight of them have systems smaller than Washington County. Which means that if the state charter commission decides to ignore local opposition to a charter as has happened in Washington County, each state board member is at risk of being bombarded by emails and phone calls just like Ella Bell, who represents Washington County, has endured.
By my count, here is the tally for each district as to how many systems are less than 2,650. Jackie Zeigler, District 1–7 systems; Tracie West, District 2–14 systems; Stephanie Bell, District 3–3 systems; Yvette Richardson, District 4–6 systems; Ella Bell, District 5–15 systems; Cynthia McCarty, District 6–7 systems; Jeff Newman, District 7–10 systems; and Wayne Reynolds, District 8–2 systems.
The point being, while Washington County may seem to be on the dark side of the moon to some folks, no member of the state school board is immune to Washington County happening at their own doorstep.
There are presently five members of the charter commission whose terms expired May 31. All can either be re-appointed or replaced. The final choice for each rests with the state school board. Do we want to reappoint any of them and risk another Washington County? Do they really deserve another chance? Common sense says NO.