Public school officials have expressed concern with the prospect of charter schools opening Grayson County.
The boards of trustees for both the Sherman Independent School District and Denison Independent School District recently passed resolutions opposing charter schools looking at Grayson County while authorizing their respective superintendents to send impact statements to the Texas Education Agency and the Texas commissioner of education.
The actions came after a pair of charter schools declared their intentions to seek operations in Grayson County. The first was Frontier Education Foundation, which is looking to operate an outdoor-focused charter school near Whitewright. The other is a classical academy by Responsive Education Solutions, which is looking to open in either Sherman or Denison. Both charter schools are seeking approval from the state and hoping to begin operations by the fall of 2020.
Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said the district wants more transparency when it comes to charter schools.
“We’re not against competition or private schools,” Hicks said. “We are about a fair and equitable system for our kids. We are about transparency for our communities. We want to know where our resources are going at the state level.”
Sherman ISD board President Tim Millerick put it a little more directly.
“We want public money for public education,” Millerick said.
Denison ISD Superintendent Henry Scott said the biggest issues are transparency and accountability.
“The voters have no decision in the process, that is one of my big issues,” Scott said. “They don’t have any type of responsibility to the taxpayers. It is totally up to the commissioner (of education) to make the decision. Once it is approved, they received taxpayer money but have no accountability to the taxpayers. We have to be responsible to our local taxpayers.
Sherman Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Tyson Bennett said the Sherman ISD should completely oppose any charter school on the grounds of the impact they have on public school finances.
“They have no requirement to be governed by locally elected citizens,” Bennett said during the district’s recent meeting. “They are subject to fewer laws than public schools with locally-elected bodies overlooking their communities. They also lack sufficient accountability of their operations while public schools do.”
Bennett said the charter schools take money away from school districts by reducing the state contributions. He said the percentage of the Sherman ISD budget that came from the state in the 2018-2019 school year was 42 percent, whereas five years ago it had been as high as 50 percent. Bennett said for the current year, SISD had funds reclaimed by the state that would be divided up between all Texas schools, including the open-enrollment charter schools.
Director of Communication for Responsive Education Solutions Billy Rudolph said the organization is looking to bring a new “classical education” style charter school to North Texas. He described the schools as having a classical style education that would combine liberal arts, music and Latin with the traditional core classes of English, math and science. Rudolph said there would also be a strong civics component with an emphasis on teaching students virtues and morals alongside their academics.
“What makes our schools different is we focus more on the moral character part of the education as an equal focus to the academic portion,” Rudolph said earlier this month.
“Charter schools are allowed to participate in the bond guarantee program here in the state of Texas,” Bennett said. “They are allowed to utilize all of the school fund guarantees to borrow funds to build facilities. We hear of charter schools going out of business all the time. When they do, they essentially default on those loans. That impacts the ratings negatively for all other school districts across the state. It is going to cost districts more money as ratings are downgraded and interest rates go up.”
Scott said there are two different issues taking place with the schools. He said Frontier Education Foundation, which is looking at the site in Whitewright, is a new application subject to the TEA review process, while the Classical Academies is an expansion school that would only require the approval of the commissioner of education.
Scott said he and Denison ISD board President Randy Sedlacek issued a joint statement to the commissioner regarding the classical academy.
“If you look at this particular charter school, the one sponsored by Classical Academies, there are seven in North Texas, of those two are low-performing,” Scott said. “TEA has put them in what is called improvement required mode. If we had students who left us for that school and they don’t stay, they come back to us making it our responsibility to catch them up.”
Frontier Education Foundation Founder and Vice Chair of the Board Cheryll Yowell, who has more than 20 years as a public school educator in Grayson County, said the reason the foundation chose to pursue a charter school was to offer more school options in Grayson and Fannin counties, while avoiding charging tuition as a private school.
“It is about choice,” Yowell said earlier this month. “If a student lives in the farthest regions of Grayson County and wants to attend, they can.”
Yowell said one thing that separates a charter school from a traditional public school is how a charter can pick broader boundaries in order to attract students from other areas. She said even though public schools do often accept transfer students, they tend to turn people away once the district is at capacity.
Scott said the biggest detriment is how charter schools claim to be public education but are run as businesses who only benefit the administrators. Scott also said charter schools don’t have to have elections to issue bonds.
And aside from money, Scott said the quality of education charter schools provide is an issue. He added charter schools are not required to hire certified teachers.
Bennett also mentioned teacher requirements. He said the average tenure for a charter teacher is three years.
“It is our job, our board’s job to provide resources to our students,” Scott said. “If you take those resources away from them, I am not doing my job unless I speak out in opposition of that.”