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Charter Schools in Boston Are Urged to Join Boston Schools System
In an unprecedented move in April, the Boston schools launched an initiative to convert all the charter schools within the city over to their school system as pilot schools. The move was in response to the millions of funding dollars lost each year for the children who attend the charter schools. Converting the schools to pilot schools, under the jurisdiction of the Boston schools, would reclaim future dollars, as well as expand the Boston schools’ portfolio of experimental schools.
The Boston schools began with a recruitment letter to 550 charter school teachers and principals, signed by Boston Teachers’ Union President Richard Stutman, then Boston schools Chief Operating Officer Michael Contompasis (now interim superintendent), and the Pilot Schools Network head Dan French. It was followed up with an open invitation meeting, where Boston schools officials and union members tried to convince the charter school educators of the advantages for making the conversion.
Charter schools were created in 1993 by state law and are under the jurisdiction of the state. There currently are 14 charter schools in the city of Boston that serve approximately 4,300 students. They give parents more choices for schooling their children, while enjoying autonomy and more freedoms than traditional schools. Educators determine what and how students are taught, the length of the school day and year, and how to disburse budgets. Teachers’ salaries and benefits, however, are determined by each school with no guarantees or unemployment protections. Additionally, there are no restrictions on how many overtime hours teachers may work without pay.
Pilot schools, under the jurisdiction of the Boston schools, were created in 1995 in response to the competition from the charter schools. Of Boston schools’ 58,600 students, about 6,000 attend the 19 pilot schools. They have more autonomy than traditional schools but less than charter schools, with educators having to negotiate their freedoms with the Teachers’ Union and the Boston schools. Pilot school educators, however, are guaranteed union pay between ,355 and ,702 annually, as well as benefits and protection, including a restriction on how many overtime hours teachers may work without pay. Seven new pilot schools are planned by 2009.
The Boston schools’ conversion initiative will be an uphill battle. It has been met with skepticism by many charter school educators, who like the flexibility and autonomy that would be lost. Converting to a pilot school would mean immersing themselves into rigidity, red tape and bureaucracy, as well as inheriting the Teachers’ Union.
Some educators were intrigued by the idea but do not give it much hope. Some see it as a bold move that deserves a hearing and discussion, as with any new idea. Some would be interested, if the Boston schools were set up to deal with charter schools like New York City and Indianapolis — autonomy is embraced rather than restricted.
Spencer Blasdale, executive director of the Academy of the Pacific Rim and president of the Massachusetts Charter School Association, encouraged each charter school to at least find out more details. He stated that his school, which is currently located in an old factory complex, could save 6,000 annually in rent — if the Boston schools provide permanent facilities. Then Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant noted that the Boston schools already had difficulty finding permanent facilities for their existing pilot schools.
As the Boston schools continue their recruitment of charter schools, the residents of Boston can only wait to see what the outcome may bring.
About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more information on Boston schools visit http://www.schoolsk-12.com/Massachusetts/Boston/index.html