The proposal to build a second charter school in Bloomington leaves Cathy Fuentes-Rowher feeling a little conflicted.
“I feel awkward,” the Bloomington parent said at a recent public hearing, “because I’m completely in agreement with the mission and the values of” the proposed Green Meadows Charter School.
She wasn’t alone. Green Meadows’ charter application speaks to the college town’s liberal arts sensibilities, promising a school that emphasizes ”environmental sustainability and social justice” and employs an educational model that avoids textbooks and emphasizes music and art.
It’s well-marketed, Fuentes-Rowher says. But she can’t support it.
“I believe in social justice. But that’s why I support public education as a whole,” Fuentes-Rowher said.
Though Green Meadows would be one of the area’s smallest schools if Ball State University approves its application, leaders of the Monroe County Community School Corporation fear the 200 students the charter’s organizers hope to draw would all come from district schools.
Why Organizers Want To Open The School
Unlike the regions around Indianapolis or Gary, where a new charter school can plausibly impact several districts, district leaders fear their schools’ enrollments have the most to lose. Losing 200 students, MCCSC officials say, would mean a $1 million hit to the district’s budget — the equivalent of more than 20 teaching jobs.But even in a school corporation that received an A rating from the state last year, the new charter school’s organizers say not every student fits in. There’s a desperate need, they say, for alternative school choices for those students.
“Is it better to work within the system that’s so hard to change, or to create a new system that’s an exemplar of what’s possible for children?” says Daniel Baron, the co-school leader of Bloomington’s currently-operating charter school, The Project School. He’s also helping Green Meadows’ organizers with their application. ”I think I’ve chosen with my whole life to create exemplars of what’s possible for children.”
He’s hoping to attract parents like Carla Carey, who homeschools her young children after pulling her daughter out of Eastern Howard School Corporation.
Because she’s a fan of the educational model the school proposes to use, Carey and her husband plan to move from near Kokomo to Bloomington to enroll her two kids in Green Meadows — and she guesses hers won’t be the only family.
“You’re going to attract families in Indiana with the same vision as us that are going to come into your community,” Carey says. “They’re families that are invested in their childrens’ education, they want to be a part of the community, they’re family-oriented. Who doesn’t want that in their community?”
Students who enroll in Green Meadows, Carey says, “will be the population that [charter school opponents are] worried about — and they’ll find a fit.”
What’s At Stake For The Traditional Public Schools
Green Meadows’ organizers expect to draw other homeschooling parents, meaning the local public school system wouldn’t lose the 200 students it currently fears.
MCCSC voters passed a $7.5 million referendum to cover a budget shortfall in 2010, but not before the district laid off off more than 70 teachers and eliminated its budget for extracurricular activities. Now school district leaders worry even a relatively small loss to the charter school could once again upset its finances.
“The million dollars is a big deal,” says MCCSC school board member Sue Wanzer, who added later, “Sometimes it feels like maybe that one hit isn’t critical, but when you put all of those hits together, it becomes harder and harder to deal with. And my fear is we’re creating two different school cultures.”
Wanzer and Fuentes-Rowher fear the district will lose the interest and civic engagement of parents, compounding the impact of a hit to the district’s budget.
“[Green Meadows] is going to get the engaged parents who are paying attention, who can make that effort,” Fuentes-Rowher says. “The kids whose parents are checked out or who don’t really know will be still in the public school, but now with fewer resources, now with fewer things to say, ‘This is awesome.’”
Fuentes-Rowher fears the district’s school librarians are “hanging by a thread,” though the school board voiced a commitment to those positions earlier this year.
“The arts programs and the music are starting to be part-time teachers who are taking those spots,” she says.
Ball State University officials say they’ll decide whether to grant Green Meadows’ charter by late fall. If they do, the school would open in Fall 2015.