"Fighting for the Soul of Public Education"

Should low performing public schools be turned over to private companies for improvement?

News Radio 1200 WOAI reports the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers tonight will be pushing back against a proposal by the San Antonio ISD to bring in a charter school company to take over operations of Stewart Elementary School on W.W. White Rd. on the east side.

The Texas Education Agency allows public school districts to partner with charter and private school corporations, but Shelly Potter of the Teachers Alliance says this move was made without consulting with the parents of students at the school, or with the taxpayers who funding construction of the facilities and pay for the staff.

"They were completely left out of the decision making about their neighborhood school," Potter said.  "There unfortunately is a paternalistic view that decisions must be made 'for' the community, and not 'with' the community."

Contracting with private companies to operate failing public schools is allowed by Texas law, and the process is becoming more common nationwide.  Many public schools in places like Los Angeles and Washington DC are operated by private companies, and all of New Orleans' schools were privatized following Hurricane Katrina.

Conservative and pro business groups have joined with unlikely allies ranging from Ted Kennedy to Michael Bloomberg over the years to encourage private for-profit companies to be allowed to step in and boost low performing public schools.

But Potter says it has to include the agreement of all parties, including the parents, the community, and the teachers, and in the Steward Elementary case, she says that has not happened.

"We are fighting for community, we are fighting for transparency, and I would say we are fighting for the soul of public education," Potter said.

The company Democracy Prep, based in New York, is set to take over operations of Stewart Elementary under a Texas Education Policy allowing charter schools to partner with districts if a school has been rated as failing for four straight years.  Alternatives include a takeover of the school by the TEA, and even closing of the school.

Democracy Prep has a history of turning low performing urban schools into high performers, according to the firm's web site.  

The SAISD says there have been meetings between parents and district officials to discuss the contract.

Any decision to allow a charter school to take over Stewart Elementary would have to be finalized by the Education Commissioner.  Democracy Prep would be responsible for hiring the staff at Stewart Elementary, and it has offered no assurance that existing teachers would be able to retain their jobs, although they would be 'invited to apply,' officials said.

Potter says the SAISD has not been forthcoming to her union and she cited a recent open records request.

"We wanted to see how long this deal has been in the works, and we were just informed by an attorney for the district that they have asked for an Attorney General's opinion on whether they want to release that information," she said.

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