Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Could charters chew up the Rochester school district?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter about charter schools. Rochester, with some of the lowest-performing schools in the country, is a market ripe for an explosion of charters, according to some local educators.

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has on multiple occasions talked about the decline in student population, which is largely attributable to charter schools. The district has lost about 3,200 students to charters, and a continued decline would have a serious impact on almost every aspect of city schools, he says.

Fewer teachers and non-teaching employees would be needed. Fewer schools would be needed, which raises questions about the massive $1.2 billion schools modernization project under way.

The big question: How many students could the district potentially lose? The answer could be thousands.

Most of the charter schools that have opened here are small schools developed by local educators, some of them expatriates of the city school district. But what if Rochester attracted more attention from the larger charter management organizations like Kipp, for example?

These are companies managing a portfolio of schools with resources, methodology, and a track record — something attractive to business leaders and investors.

Joe Klein, chair of Klein Steel and former treasurer of True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School, has created E3 Rochester, a company that could radically change the education landscape in the city. E3 recruits successful charter management organizations. Klein has so far attracted the interest of at least two organizations, and each has applied to open a school in Rochester in 2014.

Klein says E3 will be driven by quality, and not growth for growth's sake.

At a meeting last night, Vargas said he knows of seven more charter schools that will open in the district over the next two years. Rochester's hospitals aren't reporting a boom in the city's birthrate, so you can see where this is going.

Let’s assume Vargas is right, and let’s also assume that none of the existing charters close; the drop in the district’s student population could be substantial over the next decade.

It’s too early to say whether that’s bad or good.

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